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CHRISTMAS

The dishes that make a real French Christmas feast

Want to do Christmas like the French? Here's some inspiration.

The dishes that make a real French Christmas feast
Photo: AFP
The culinary highlight of the French year is not for most families on Christmas Day, but late on Christmas Eve, and traditionally begins once folks have returned from midnight mass.
 
The feast is called “Le Reveillon”, meaning “awakening” or “wake up”, because it normally goes on until the early hours of the morning. 
 
Whereas some cultures prefer to plump for a roast turkey and stuffing, with roast potatoes, gravy and a few extra trimmings, the French really push the boat out and flash the cash.
 
Here are ten Christmas dishes you can expect to eat if you're in France at Christmas
 
CAVIAR
 
Le Reveillon starts as it means to go on and with caviar or smoked salmon on blinis, the traditional apéritif sets the tone for the rest of the mammoth evening/morning.
 
Photo: Stu Spivack/Flickr
 
OYSTERS
 
While many of us might grimace at the thought of seafood for Christmas dinner, the French and particularly Parisians have a big appetite for it. Oysters don't come cheap, of course, but apparently they are nice and big and juicy around this time of year. Oysters will normally be served up as an appetizer at Le Reveillon to get diners in the mood for, well, more food.
 
Photo: R Thumb/Flickr
 
LOBSTER
 
The French don't hold back on the spending when it comes to culinary customs for Le Reveillon, so continuing in the theme of pricey seafood, lobster and crab will often make an appearance on the menu.
 
Photo: Chispita/Flickr
 
FOIE GRAS
 
Of course, a French Christmas feast wouldn't be the same without a portion (or four) of that typically festive treat – foie gras. There's no force-feeding here though as it's most often served up on slices of bread as a starter or apéritif with a sweet wine, normally a Sauternes.
 
Photo: stu spivack/Flickr
 
ESCARGOTS
 
Snails might not be eaten as often in France as many people think, but they do make an appearance at Christmas, particularly in the region of Burgundy, home of the “escargot de Bourgogne”. They'll be served up as a starter, with the usual garlic and parsley butter, to hide/bring out the slimey/smooth texture and flavour/tastelessness.
 
Photo: Craig Hatfield/Flickr
 
COQUILLES SAINT JACQUES
 
Scallops are a real mainstay of the Reveillon feast. And there's more than one way to cook a scallop, although served as a starter with a cream sauce is the most popular. Make sure you pick the right ones when you go to the market, or risk getting another more rude “awakening” on Christmas morning. No suspect juices or odours and they should be alive at the time of purchase.
 
Photo: David Jones/Flickr
 
ROAST TURKEY WITH CHESTNUT STUFFING
 
When it comes to the main course for Le Reveillon, that dish changes year on year, and by region. One of the most popular remains the traditional turkey with a chestnut stuffing. Chestnuts are everywhere in France at Christmas, so it's natural you would find them stuffed inside turkey. 
 
Photo: Lauren Tobs/Flickr
 
ALL KINDS OF BIRDS AND WILD FOWL
 
Including guinea fowl (pintade), quail (caille), pheasant (faisan), goose (oie) – particularly in the Alsace region of eastern France – and of course chicken (poulet). “If it flies it fries”, seems to be the motto when it comes to traditional main courses for Le Reveillon.
 
Photo: Austin Evan/Flickr
 
THIRTEEN DESSERTS
 
Once you've eaten all the seafood and birds you can imagine, as well as a cheese course, then you have no less than 13 desserts waiting for you at the end. Or at least you do if you are in Provence. The 13 desserts represent Jesus and the 12 apostles and are normally made up of dried fruit, such as dates and figs, as well as a traditional cake called “pompe a l'huile”.
 
Photo: CRTPAC/Flickr
 
BÛCHE DE NOËL
 
Outside Provence, the likelihood is that the French will spare a little room in their bellies for the traditional Christmas chocolate log or “Bûche de Noël,” as it's known. It's basically a rich chocolate cake wrapped up into the shape of a Yule Log. And after that all that is left to do is…
 
Photo: Tony Dolor/Flickr
 
WASH IT DOWN WITH CHAMPAGNE
 
No Christmas in France is the same without the bubbly (Champagne, that is, not Prosecco). It normally comes out at the beginning off Le Reveillon, to kick off proceedings and then will be put away to be replaced by a selection of wines, then digestifs. By the time all this is done, it will be around 3am on Christmas morning. So all that's left is to say “Joyeux Noël”.
 
Photo: Chris Chapman/Flickr
 

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WEATHER

Will anywhere in France get a white Christmas this year?

A white Christmas might be at the top of many people's festive wish list but will it actually come true for anyone in France this year?

Haut-Koenigsbourg castle in Orschwiller, eastern France.
Haut-Koenigsbourg castle in Orschwiller, eastern France. Non-mountainous parts of the country will not see snow this year. (Photo by PATRICK HERTZOG / AFP)

If you’re in France and have been dreaming of a white Christmas, you are probably out of luck. 

It has been freezing in recent days with temperatures falling to a low of -33.4C in Jura on Wednesday morning, but the cold spell isn’t going to last. 

Temperatures across the country will hover around the 10C level in most of France by the afternoon on December 25th according to Météo France, with parts of the country including Brittany and some parts of eastern France experiencing rainfall. 

By the afternoon on Christmas Day, the chances of snow look extremely limited. Source: www.meteofrance.com

On Saturday, there will be some snowfall, but only if you are high in the mountains at an altitude of 1,800-2,000m. On Sunday, places above 1,500m could also see snow – but this rules out the vast majority of the country. 

Roughly half the country will see sunshine over the weekend. The French weather channel said that this Christmas could be among the top five or six warmest since 1947. 

Last year, Météo France cautioned: “While we often associate snow with Christmas in the popular imagination, the probability of having snow in the plains [ie not in the mountains] during this period is weak in reality.”

One of the last great Christmas snowfalls, outside of France’s mountainous areas, came in 2010 when 3-10 cm of snow fell in Lille, Rouen and Paris. In Strasbourg, 26cm fell. 

On Christmas Day in 1996, 12 cm of snow fell in Angers – ironically, this was also the day that the film, Y’aura t’il de la neige à Noël? (Will there never be snow at Christmas?) was released. It had been ten years since France had seen such snowfall outside of the Alps and Pyrenees. 

Météo France directly attributes declining rates of Christmas snowfall to climate change. Compared to 50 years ago, even the Alps receives the equivalent one less month of snowfall per year. 

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