Christmas Eve in France – Vive la différence!

As I mentioned in a previous post, our Christmas Eve was far from normal this past year! (is 6000 KM far enough?) Even though I usually really enjoy the Christmas Season in general, I did not realize just how much we were perhaps ‘stuck in a rut’! Although we tend as humans to stick with what is most familiar to us, we can miss out on a great deal in life if we do not occasionally move outside of our comfort zone. Doing something totally against the grain will generally cause one of two reactions:

  1. You will discover that your old habit was just that! You will broaden your horizon and either gain a new ‘habit’ or at least realize that other alternatives are both possible and/or desireable
  2. You will confirm that your ‘traditional’ habit is still the one that suits you the best and the next time you will enjoy it all the more as a consequence.


In retrospect, in our case, it was probably a combination of the two! I can certainly attest to the fact that I will look upon Yuletide in a slightly different fashion from here on in. In general, we are most certainly creatures of habit. However, there is nothing wrong with occasionally creating a new one!  🙂

Xmas Eve Breakfast Table

A typical French breakfast to start off Xmas Eve!

Pictured here is a typcial French breakfast. At first glance, it looks no different than what one might expect to see in North America. If you look closely though, you will note some major departures. For starters, the bowls in the foreground, although closely resembling what we would use as cereal bowls, are, in fact for coffee. Bread, brioches or croissants can then be slathered with jam (usually NOT buttered) and dunked in the brown steaming liquid. Although there are plates present on the table, this was more of a concession to the North American contingent, since the French would not typically use them. Also, the bread is typically ripped apart with one’s hands rather than using a knife.

In the centre of the table is a ‘Kugelhopf’, a cross between bread, cake and brioche. It is a traditional Alsatian Christmas treat. It highlights one of the major differences in eating habits between the French and the English: cake and pastries versus eggs and bacon. The French seem to eschew the ‘salé’ at breakfast and stick almost exclusively with ‘sucré’.

Santa Claus or Père Noël

Jolly Old Santa?

Even good old ‘Père Noël’, although somewhat familiar-looking, is not quite what North American children might expect. It looks like the granola-crunchers put him on a diet! Like our Santa, he is dressed in Red and White, but the elves and reindeer are not in evidence. Also, in his hand, he is carrying candy to give to the little kids. Not likely to happen here, I believe…. And to boot, to the more discerning eye, those old scruffy shoes are not what Mrs. Claus would approve of. It turns out that Santa does not have to work quite so hard in Europe in the run up to Christmas either. No midnight madness here! Many stores still close between 12-2PM and close for the day at 7PM, even on Thursdays and Fridays. Mind you, for the last few years in Canada, shopping on the 24th of December was not a bad thing because most people were done and the stores were almost deserted. Not so in France. We went to a small shopping centre for a few last-minute items and could barely find a place to park and lines at the cash were unending.

Back at the table again?

France is probably barely different t0 most other countries where Christmas is celebrated. The holiday seems to revovle around food and drink. For ‘Réveillon de Noël’, we were invited to celebrate with close family and friends of our son-in-law, Mikaël, most of whom we had met previously at the wedding 18 months ago. There were about as many similarities to our own ‘normal’ proceedings as there were differences.

  • Either Champagne or Canadian Icewine was offered as an apperitif to accompany a variety of canapés not dissimilar to what one might find served in Canada. Once we were seated at the table, however, things started to diverge significantly.
  • Copious amounts of pâté de foie gras (homemade by Joëlle) topped with fig compote along with smoked salmon were eaten on small thin rounds of toasted bread or pain d’épice. These were accompanied by a sweet Sauterne wine.
  • The main course was roast turkey, followed with braised chestnuts. These dishes were paired with a rich, dry burgundy. This was followed by two vegetable dishes, which I can no longer recall, since I was totally stuffed with all the foregoing.
  • One of the primary differences in the way food was served was that each dish was served and largely consumed before the next was brought to the table. Personally, I find it much harder to regulate my intake this way; firstly because one is never sure what might be left to be served and secondly because I rarely eat more than that which fits reasonably on a single plate! What a terrible problem to have! 😉

Could just as easily be Canada as France!?

Fortunately for all, the normal custom dictates that all take a constitutional before dessert and we all marched off to the centre of Poncin, the picturesque little village not too far from Villereversure. Even though it was a fairly cold and damp evening, it was great to get the change of atmosphere and work off a few of the calories. Dessert took on a somewhat Canadian tone since Dorothy had produced her traditional Christmas Log and Wreath. These were accompanied by a variety of mostly homemade confections and chocolates. All-in-all, we had a extremely pleasant evening and rarely once gave a thought to what we might have been doing had we chosen not to break with tradition…..

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