Some French Christmas foods in France have been passed down for generations, while other holiday dishes evolved from local traditions and available ingredients.
Let’s take a look at some French Classics that families in France love to serve during the winter holidays.
French Christmas food in France Traditions
In France, most families eat their big celebratory Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve, the 24th of December, starting around 8 pm. Then, immediately after dinner, families will usually open their gifts.
This Christmas Eve meal is a “Reveillon” dinner often referred to as “Le Réveillon de Noël.”
Why is the Christmas Eve meal called Le réveillon “awakening?”
“Réveillon” is a French term that means awakening, as people were required to stay up until late in the morning and have a lavish meal that could last until dawn, sometimes served as late as 2 am.
Many French Catholic families used to follow the rules of the Roman Catholic Church of not eating meat or dairy products on fasting days.
- No meat except for fish or frogs because they’re not considered meat.
- Families then ate a second meal after returning from midnight mass, which included meats such as geese, chicken, pork and dairy products.
Nowadays, many French families do not follow the strict fasting rules of the Catholic Church and eat their big decadent dinner (with meat) around 8 pm on Christmas Eve. However, in some regions like Provence, many families still prefer to eat fish on Christmas Eve. Some families like to have a Christmas lunch on the 25th of December, known as “le déjeuner de Noël.”
The New Year’s Eve meal in France is called something similar, “Le Réveillon du Nouvel-An,” because you have to stay up late on New Year’s Eve to ring in the new year.
The French Christmas Dinner
Every family has their Christmas Eve meal traditions and recipes.
Some like to have a big sit-down meal. Others like to have a big apéritif dînatoire, which is a little like a buffet-style meal of little plates.
Either way, there is a big emphasis put on the food, and there are definitely some typical French Christmas foods that many French families include as part of their Christmas dinner.
Many recipes have been passed down for generations, while other Christmas holiday dishes in France evolved from local traditions and available ingredients. There are, of course, regional dishes as well, such as the 13 desserts of Christmas only celebrated in the Provence area of France.
Start with an apéro (short for apéritif): Pre-dinner drinks & small bites
Serving your guests a light pre-dinner drink with small salty bites is a great way to get the conversation flowing and enjoy each other’s company before the main event: the elaborate and long Christmas meal.
This pre dinner tradition in France is called “l’heure de l’apéro” (Apero Time). If you’re unfamiliar with this pre-dinner tradition, I wrote a detailed article about French apéro time, which can happen any time of the year, not just for the Christmas meal.
Small Apéritif bites:
Usually, small bites of something salty and savoury are served during apero time to stimulate thirst and whet your appetite. During more casual get-togethers, these small bites can be a simple bowl of crisps, olives or pistachios.
But since the Christmas menu is meant to be a much more elaborate or fancy meal, the small bites for l’apéro de noël (Christmas apero) will usually be fancier, too. Small canapés, Gougères au
The aperitif drinks:
The aperitif drinks (pre-dinner drinks) should be crisp and light. The idea is to open the appetite, not squash it or get drunk.
I have a huge list of 77 French Aperitifs: Pre-dinner Alcoholic Drinks to choose from, but here are a few classic Aperitif drinks.
1) Champagne or bubbly sparkling wine
Whether it’s crémant, sparkling wine, or Champagne, families almost always toast the Christmas meal during l’apéro time with a glass or two of something bubbly.
2) Kir Royale
If you want to serve a light cocktail during the aperitif that’s easy to make, it doesn’t get any easier than Kir Royale.
This classic and very popular French aperitif is made with sparkling wine or Champagne and a splash of a crème de cassis.
3) Kir: White wine and crème de Cassis
Before there was Kir Royale, there was just Kir.
Kir is the same as a Kir Royale only; instead of sparkling wine, you serve a glass of dry white wine with a splash of Creme de Cassis. I
4) Champomy: Non-alcoholic bubbly apple juice
Serving sparkling apple juice is the perfect festive drink to serve during the pre-dinner Christmas apero for those who don’t like to drink alcohol and for children,
Champomy, for example, is a popular brand of sparkling apple juice in France that everyone associates with a festive party.
The bottle even looks like a Champagne bottle. For us, this is a must-have at all festive dinner parties and celebratory meals.
APPETIZERS: TYPICAL FRENCH STARTERS (ENTRÉE)
Once everyone has had their pre-dinner aperitif drink and some light conversation, usually in the living room, it’s time to move to the dinner table and some tasty French appetizers.
There are hundreds of different appetizers you could serve, but some French food classics always seem to make it onto the French Christmas food menu in France.
It’s so quintessentially part of France’s French Christmas food menu that many schools serve
Foie Gras is basically the fattened liver of a duck or goose, which is not only a French Christmas Food staple, but it often shows up at the New Year’s Eve table.
A handful of schools in France have banned
foie gras because of animal cruelty concerns. Several countries have also banned the production and sale of Foie grasfor the same reason. The geese and duck are force-fed with a tube to fatten up their liver, which is considered a form of animal cruelty.
This is a very touchy subject in France, and you shouldn’t bring it up with someone in France unless you’re prepared to duke it out.
Oysters on the half shell (les huitres)
Serve with dry white wine.
White sausage boudin blanc)
Stores usually sell pre-cooked
Boudin Blanc is a traditional French sausage made with milk, chicken and a touch of cognac. All Natural" guaranteed free of antibiotics, hormones, preservatives, artificial ingredients and nitrites. Animals are fed with the purest natural feeds (No animal by-product).
8) Parsley herbed escargot: (Escargots au beurre persillé)
Another classic Christmas food in France are “les escargots” (snails.)
There are many escargot recipes, but baked escargot in herbed parsley butter is a typical French holiday meal recipe (Escargots au beurre persillé.)
You can purchase escargot pre-seasoned and stuffed in many food stores in France, but it’s relatively easy to make.
Just stuff escargot and herbed butter in shells and bake for about 8 to 10 minutes, and serve.
9) Scallops (les Saint-Jacques)
Scallops are another classic Christmas holiday food in France.
Like turkey recipes, scallop recipes vary by family, but one popular way to serve Scallops for Christmas in France is baked au gratin in a shell (Coquilles Saint Jacques gratinées).
10) Smoked salmon (Saumon fumé)
Like the Christmas ham in North America, smoked Salmon seems to always make an appearance on the French Christmas dinner table in France.
You’ll find it served in a variety of ways in France, usually cold.
- “Terrine de saumon” (like in the photo above).
- served as an amuse-bouche (tiny cocktail-style appetizer on bread.)
- In slices with a bit of lemon
- In small glasses (les verrines) with a creamed sauce
- On blinis with tzatziki sauce
11) L’aïgo boulido
In Provence, the Christmas meal traditions are a little different than the rest of France.
The Christmas Eve meal in Providence is called “the big supper,” and other than fish, no meat is served whatsoever.
A popular appetizer served for the French Provencal Christmas meal is “L’aïgo boulido” which is made with garlic, thyme, and sage and served with slices of bread rubbed with garlic and a little olive oil.
You can read more about the French provencal Christmas meal here.
The main poultry (fowl) dish.
Like many countries, serving a stuffed fowl for Christmas in France is an old Christian holiday food tradition borrowed from earlier cultural traditions.
Turkeys have topped the list for centuries, but you might also find other types of fowl served during a typical French Christmas dinner.
Let’s go over a few, starting with the French Christmas turkey.
12) Christmas turkey (Dinde de Noël)
Eating turkey is a widespread Christmas Eve meal tradition for many households in France.
Recipes vary, but in France and Belgium, the Christmas turkey is often stuffed with chestnuts, whereas, in North America, it’s often associated with crouton stuffing and cranberry sauce.
An interesting fact about the French word for turkey: Dinde pronounced /daned/
In the 1500s, Christoper Columbus and Spanish traders brought domesticated turkeys back to Spain from the Americas.
The Spaniards thought that they were returning from India. So, at the beginning following the discovery of the Americas, the French called turkeys “hens or roosters from India” (coq d’Inde” or “poule d’Inde.”)
The words Coq and Poule were dropped, and “D’Inde” became “Dinde,” the French word for Turkey.
Eventually, French Jesuit missionaries began breeding turkeys in the town of Bourges, and the turkey eventually replaced chicken and geese as the poultry of choice to serve at Christmas meals.
13) Capon (Chapon)
A “chapon” is a fattened and castrated rooster (male chicken).
Not to get too graphic, but the testicles of the rooster are inside the body so two incisions need to be made to insert fingers into the rooster to tear out their testicles with castrating pliers, an operation that is painful for the animal.
Now you know!
14) Poularde or coq stuffed with chestnuts
Another dish some families like to serve for the Christmas Eve dinner is a Poularde or rooster stuffed with chestnuts.
A “poularde” is a French cooking term that describes a young chicken fattened with a rich diet that delays egg production. They are often raised in a cage and sterilized.
15) Magret de Canard
Some French families prefer to eat capon or turkey for their Christmas meal; others, especially in Toulouse, opt for the magret de Canard, which is a duck breast.
Magret à l’orange, served with a glass of rosé, is a classic, but there are many modern French magret de Carnard recipes to choose from.
Whether roasted whole in the oven or pan-fried, it goes wonderfully with fruity or slightly tangy sauces.
The best way to enjoy magret is rare, with a pink center.
Other Christmas meat dishes
Turkey might be the king of the French Christmas food list in France; however, some families like to include or replace the poultry dish with a red meat dish.
16) Roasted leg of lamb (Gigot d’agneau)
A roasted leg of lamb is eaten all year round but sometimes makes its way onto the French Christmas food list.
17) Beef in pastry (Boeuf en croûte)
Boeuf en croûte is another classic Christmas food in France, which you might know in English as Beef Wellington.
A french twist is this French recipe, boeuf en croûte with foie gras.
18) Pâté en croûte
Pâté en croûte (paste in crust) is also another traditional dish made with meat pâté that is wrapped in a pastry and then baked.
It’s often made with a mixture of pork and veal, although more modern recipes use other types of meat, such as chicken.
Potatoes are an important side dish in many cultures. You may like mashed potatoes, but there are many different ways to cook potatoes in France.
19) Gratin dauphinois (potatos au gratin)
Gratin dauphinois or pommes de terre à la dauphinoise is a traditional French food in France of sliced potatoes baked in milk or cream, using the gratin technique.
It’s called Dauphnois because it’s originally from the Dauphiné region in south-eastern France, whose area roughly corresponded to that of the present departments of Isère, Drôme and Hautes-Alpes.
Everyone needs a little roughage. Here are a few classic vegetable accompaniments served with a French Christmas dinner in France.
21) Creamed spinace (épinards hachés à la crème)
22) Glazed carrots (Carottes glacées)
There is a multitude of different ways to cook glazed carrots. Glazed with honey, parsley, thyme, and various herbs.
For a touch of class, use different types of carrots in a variety of colours.
You can’t mention a good French meal without mentioning cheese.
Some people actually prefer it over the dessert.
Just remember that in France, salty is always served before sweet. So, if you are serving both cheese and a dessert, the cheese is served before the dessert.
You can serve cheese on its own after the meal or with the salad at the end of the meal.
23) Cheese Platter
There are over a thousand different types of French cheese to choose from, but there is no single cheese associated with Christmas like how Turkey is associated with Christmas in France.
There are, however, some classics that usually make it to the Christmas meal cheese plate.
To avoid buying too much cheese, you should choose a well-balanced selection of cheeses. Just make sure they are good quality cheeses and a mixture of hard and soft cheeses.
For example, a cheese with character, like a
If you’re into stinky washed-rind cheeses like époisses, I have an entire list of stinky cheeses here.
French Christmas Dessert
24) Yule log (Bûche de Noël)
The Christmas yule log is a very popular dessert to serve for the Christmas meal in France, Belgium, parts of Switzerland, and French-speaking parts of Canada, such as Quebec and New Brunswick.
The Yule log is a custom that has been a part of the Christmas meal tradition since the Middle Ages, but it actually has much older roots that stem from various pagan rituals linked to the winter solstice.
Throughout the centuries, the meaning has changed, but today, the yule log cake represents the yule log that families would burn starting on Christmas Eve to bring good luck.
There are many recipes for a yule log, but some classics are passion fruit, chocolates, vanilla or candied chestnuts.
25) 13 desserts of Christmas
In the south of France, many provencal families serve something called the 13 desserts of Christmas, which represent Jesus and the 12 apostles. The 13 desserts are very simple and usually include an olive oil bread called Pompe à l’huile, dried nuts, fresh fruit, and candied jelly.
26) Ferrero Rocher Chocolate
Ferro Rocher might be an Italian brand of chocolate, but it almost always makes its way into French homes during Christmas and New Year’s.
27) Kinder Chocolate
During Christmas time, Christmas-themed Kinder Chocolate is everywhere.
Families with children will invariably include different varieties of kinder chocolates that come in all sorts of shapes and sizes.