French Christmas food in France: 27 holiday dinner menu traditions

Let’s take a look at nearly 30 classic French Christmas food ideas that families in France love to serve for the Christmas holiday dinner and some French Christmas dinner traditions.

French Christmas food in France Traditions

Post card from 1906 illustrating le réveillon de Noël (French Christmas eve meal)

In France, most families eat their big celebratory Christmas dinner on Christmas eve, the 24th of December, starting around 8 pm.

Immediately after dinner, families will usually open their gifts. 

This Christmas Eve meal is a Reveillon dinner, or more specifically “Le Réveillon de Noël.”

Réveillon comes from French reveille (to wake or awaken).

Why is the Christmas Eve meal called Le réveillon “awakening?”

Many French Catholic families used to follow the rules of the Roman Catholic Church.

Since the Roman Catholic church does not permit meat or dairy products on fasting days (vigil day); any day preceding a major holy day (or feast day), families would eat two meals.

  1. One Christmas Eve meal, which included no meat. Ironically, fish is OK to eat on fasting days because it’s not considered a meat. Neither are frogs. 
  2. Families then ate a second meal after returning from midnight mass, which did include meats such as geese, chicken, pork and dairy products.

Families were essentially staying awake very late and awakening their appetite for this big decadent meal that could take place as late as 2 am and last until dawn.

The New years eve meal in France is called something similar, “Le Réveillon du Nouvel-An” because you have to stay up late on new years eve to ring in the new year.

These days, many French families are secular or don’t follow the strict fasting rules of the Catholic church and eat their big decadent dinner (with meat) around 8 pm on Christmas Eve. There are exceptions such as in Provence where many families still only eat fish on Christmas eve. 

Some families also like to have a Christmas lunch on the 25th of December, called le déjeuner de Noël.

We like to do both in our family. 

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

French drinks: Aperitifs to drink or serve before diner

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.

L'apero is a time of the day and

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 gruyère, des verrines ( small glass filled with layers of food).  

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

Kir: French drinks, Aperitif made with Creme de cassis and alcohol, wine, champagne

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 liqueur. 

There are many crème de liqueur flavours to choose from, such as peach, cherry, and grapefruit, but black currant (called Crème de cassis) is the most ubiquitous.  

3) Kir: White wine and crème de Cassis

Kir Royal French Aperitif

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 liqueur. In France, this white wine is usually Aligoté,  a light, citrusy wine from Burgundy, but you can use any white wine if you like. 

Legend has it that the Kir was invented by accident when a server accidentally poured some white wine in a customer’s glass that already had creme de cassis in it. The customer liked it so much that it eventually became a classic French aperitif drink. 

4) Champomy: Non-alcoholic bubbly apple juice

Champomy: sparkling apple juice for Christmas meal

Serving sparkling apple juice is the perfect festive drink to serve during the pre-dinner Christmas apero for those that 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.

5) Foie gras

foie gras: traditional Christmas food France

Not including Foie gras would be like not serving gravy with mashed potatoes. 

It’s so quintessentially part of France’s French Christmas food menu that many schools serve Foie gras to students at the special end-of-year Christmas meal.

Foie Gras is basically 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.

Foie Gras consumption during the end of year celebratory meal is it’s not only an aperitif but also used as an ingredient such as in a turkey stuffing. 

pain d’épice. But you can also use rustic bread and serve with sweet onion confit, a type of onion jam.

 An excellent wine to serve at the beginning of the Christmas meal with foie gras is a slightly sweet white wine such as Sauterne. 

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 gras for 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. 

6) Oysters on the half shell (les huitres)

oysters on plate with lemon wedge for French Christmas meal

Oysters are enjoyed all year round in France, but it’s during the end of year Christmas meal and new years eve meal when people eat the most oysters. Count on serving about 4 to 6 oysters per person along with some buttered rye bread and lemons. 

Serve with dry white wine. 

7) White sausage boudin blanc)

boudin blanc

Boudin blanc is a moist, white sausage made with a mixture of meat (pork, chicken, veal), eggs, bread crumbs, starch, spices and milk or cream.

Boudin blanc is a popular Christmas food in France that is available all year round, but it’s especially popular around Christmas time. 

Stores usually sell pre-cooked boudin blanc, so all you have to do is fry them in a pan with a bit of butter, salt and pepper. 

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8) Parsley herbed escargot: (Escargots au beurre persillé)

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)

Coquilles Saint Jacques gratinées

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)

Salmon Terrine: French Christmas food

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
French Blini's are a popular food choice at French New Years Eve dinner parties
Image and recipe courtesey of “Cuisine en ouleurs”

11) L’aïgo boulido

Aïgo boulido: Provancal garlic soup for Christmas meal

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, 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. turkey.

12) Christmas turkey (Dinde de Noël)

French turkey recipes

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. 

Here are 9 French turkey recipes for Thanksgiving and a typical French Christmas holiday meal.

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, in the beginning following the discovery of the Americas, the French called turkeys “hen or rooster from India” (coq d’Inde” or “poule d’Inde”.)

The word Coq and Poule were dropped, and “D’Inde” became “Dinde,” the French word for Turkey.

Eventually, French Jesuit missionaries began breeding turkey 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)

Chapon de Noël

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 choice some families like to serve for the Christmas eve diner is a Pouularde or rooster stuffed with chestnuts. 

A poularde is 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

Magret de Canard: Duck breast: French Christmas food in France

 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)

gigot 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: Beef wellington: French Christmas food in France

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

Pâté en croûte (literally paste in crust) is also another traditional dish made with meat pâté that is wrapped in a pastry, 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

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: French Christmas food in France

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. 

Vegetables

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)

épinards hachés à la crème

22) Glazed carrots (Carottes glacées)

glazed-carrots

There is a multitude of different ways to cook glazed carrots. Glazed with honey, parsley, thyme, various herbs.

For a touch of class, use different types of carrots in a variety of colours. 

The Cheese 

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

stinky cheese board

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 Roquefort, and the essential Comté cheese. Saint-Brie cheese are also good choices.

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)

Bûche de Noël (Yule Log Cake)

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

example of 13 dessert table setting
Table setting of 13 Desserts from macigaleestfantastique

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, candied jelly.  

Chocolates

26) Ferrero Rocher Chocolate

Ferrero chocolates:

Ferro Rocher might be an Italian brand of chocolate, but it almost always makes its way into French homes during Christmas and New years. 

27) Kinder Chocolate

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. 

Merry Christmas

 

Photo of Annie André: www.AnnieAndre.com

Annie André

About the author 

I'm Annie André, a bilingual North American with Thai and French Canadian roots. I've lived in France since 2011. When I'm not eating cheese, drinking wine or hanging out with my husband and children, I write articles on my personal blog annieandre.com for intellectually curious people interested in all things France: Life in France, travel to France, French culture, French language, travel and more.

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