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You probably won’t be surprised to know that in the country where gastronomy has been given UNESCO status, so important a part of the national heritage is it, that at times of celebration, food is firmly at the forefront of every festive occasion - especially Christmas. The markets take on a special glow as gourmet food galore is piled onto stalls, stopping you in your tracks at the sight and the scent.

The French celebrate Christmas on the evening of the 24th of December with a long, long, long dinner. It’s called a réveillon. The word comes from the French word reveiller (to wake) because it usually goes on way past midnight, so you have to stay awake until the early hours of the next morning!

The meal usually starts with an amuse bouche (literally something that entertains the mouth). Little canapés are served often with Champagne.

Then comes the starter (or even starters) – oysters, shellfish, foie gras or perhaps ‘boudin blanc’, a white sausage made with pork and truffles and served warm, gently browned in a pan of melted butter.

Amazingly this comes before the guests tuck into the main meal, perhaps turkey or capon (a castrated cockerel) or game.

Cheese is served before dessert in France, it’s not an alternative, it’s a course in its own right. A tempting platter is presented, usually a mix of goat and cow cheese, perhaps gooey Camembert, piquant Tomme and herby chevre.

Dessert is often a sweet Christmas log made of chocolate, ice-cream or fruits called a buche de noel. Though if you live in the south of France 13 desserts are a tradition. Yes, really 13 desserts! The desserts represent the last supper of Christ and the 12 apostles and they are laid out symbolically on a table of three tablecloths, with three candles which represent the Trinity. Traditionally the food is set on the table for three days, they are all served at the same time and guests must taste each one.

Wine is chosen to go with each course, and a little Calvados or Cognac rounds off the evening beautifully with a few chocolates if you’ve got room. Then it’s time to relax, sleep off the meal until noon when a hearty lunch of leftovers awaits.

Why not take a break in France over Christmas at one of our fabulous holiday homes and prepare your own French feast in the land of gastronomy - bon appétit!