The French celebrate Christmas Eve with an elaborate meal called réveillon (pronounced ray-veh-YON). Réveillon means “awakening” in French. This banquet usually takes place after attending MIDNIGHT MASS on Christmas Eve. In past times people may have savored réveillon even more than they do today because it signaled the end of the four-week Advent fast.
RÉVEILLON IN FRANCE
Although in FRANCE some people choose to celebrate réveillon in restaurants, most opt to feast at home. Many invite extended family members and guests to their table. To sustain themselves through the long church services, the family often takes a light snack in the early evening. Small children may be put to bed for a few hours before the evening’s activities begin. When families dine at home, the women usually cook and serve the food. This may include washing dishes between courses in order to serve each on a clean plate.
Special preparations set the tone for an elegant celebration. The table sparkles with candles, polished silverware, and a Christmas centerpiece. The family’s best tablecloth lies underneath. Much work in the kitchen must take place before the diners sit down, since the meal may consist of up to fifteen courses. Several wines accompany the meal, and toasts are offered throughout. The feast often begins with oysters or other shellfish. In Paris common réveillon dishes include goose liver pâté, roast turkey or roast goose stuffed with prunes and pâté, special preparations of potatoes and vegetables, cheese, fruit, nuts, and for dessert, bûche de Noël (Christmas log), a special chocolate, cream-filled cake shaped like a log.
Other regions maintain their own traditional Christmas Eve menus. In the southern region of Provence a choice of thirteen desserts greets diners at the end of the meal, one for JESUS and each of the twelve apostles. Typical desserts include fresh and dried fruits, such as figs, dates, pears, and oranges, marzipan, sweet bread, and cookies.
RÉVEILLON IN THE UNITED STATES AND CANADA
The tradition of the réveillon supper traveled with French colonists to the Americas. In the nineteenth century New Orleans’s French population continued to celebrate Christmas Eve with attendance at Midnight Mass followed by réveillon dinners at home. Today many prominent New Orleans restaurants attract diners with sumptuous réveillon menus. The French Canadians of Quebec also inherited the tradition of coming home to réveillon supper after Midnight Mass. A traditional réveillon menu in Quebec consists of la tourtière (a meat pie), a stew of meat balls and pork, minced pork pie, oyster or pea soup, a variety of sauces and relishes, and several desserts. Traditional réveillon desserts include pastries, candies, fruitcake, sugar pie, cornmeal cake, doughnuts, ice cream, and bûche de Noël.