Devoid of a feast-focused holiday like Thanksgiving, France pulls out all the stops at Christmastime, with a multi-course meal and more than enough specialties to enjoy in the days leading up to the festivities.
Here is just a touch of what you can expect on the table at Christmastime in Paris and beyond. These French Christmas foods are what make the season truly memorable.
Christmas Market Fare
Christmas markets play host to a ton of holiday specialties in France, and in the days leading up to Christmas, they may be the best places to sample some of these goodies. Roasted chestnuts are a great snack to carry around the market to warm up cold fingers, as is mulled wine: a concoction of red wine simmered with spices and sometimes spiked with brandy or kirsch.
Heartier delicacies include après-ski fare: tartiflette and raclette both pair gooey melted cheese with potatoes and charcuterie, and can be found served out of huge pans at many Christmas markets. The markets may also sell a few remaining calendriers de l’Avent. These calendars traditionally contain one chocolate candy for each day of December, though versions boasting everything from cosmetics to beer have been released by different companies.
Speaking of beer, Christmas markets are also a phenomenal place to enjoy a Christmas brew. Often richly flavored and occasionally spiced, these special edition beers are released by brewers every year leading up to the holidays.
The Christmas Meal
The Christmas meal in France generally takes place on December 24 and is a multi-course extravaganza showing off the best of French terroir. Appetizers may include oysters, foie gras, smoked salmon or escargots, accompanied by Champagne or good white wine.
The main event is generally roast poultry—turkey or capon—served with chestnuts or even truffles. A cheese course follows, which may feature seasonal cheeses like rich Brillat-Savarin with a layer of truffles, or nutty Comté aged 36 or 42 months.
The meal culminates in the typical French Christmas dessert: a bûche de Noël, or yule log cake. The bûche can either be made with a rolled genoise cake decorated with buttercream and marzipan mushrooms, or a glazed ice cream concoction. Some families make their own bûches, while others enlist the help of local pâtissiers, hard at work for months to perfect their recipe.
If guests have any space left, they might enjoy a mandarine or tangerine at the very end of the meal.
While you’ll find variations on the above throughout the country, some regions have their own culinary specialties that they enjoy around the holidays. In parts of eastern France, pain d’épices, or gingerbread spiked with honey, is common. In Alsace, you’ll even find this sweet, rich bread served with foie gras.
In Ardèche, meanwhile, chestnuts takes center stage. Candied and glazed chestnuts are a popular sweet to savor in the days leading up to and following Christmas festivities.
In Provence, Christmas is synonymous with the 13 desserts: a combination of different nuts, dried fruits, and other confections that represents Jesus and the 12 apostles. The exact combination will vary according to region and even to family, but often includes almond calissons from Aix, dried plums from Brignoles, nougat from Montélimar, and more.
What a delicious way to ring in the holiday!