How to Have a French Holiday Meal at Home

by HiP Paris
Left: A fireplace in a Parisian apartment at Christmastime. The walls and fireplace are white and there is a large gold trimmed mirror hung over the fireplace. There are decorations made from greenery on the mantlepiece as well as silver Christmas ornaments and a wreath hung over the mirror with a pink bow on it. Left: a close up of a Christmas tree outside in Paris. There are red ribbons on the tree. In the background a carrousel can be seen with lights on it.
Top: / craftbakerypensacola / Above: cedarandlimestone / Florian Olivo

The holidays are a chance to find joy in this most challenging year. While it’s still tricky to travel, you can keep wanderlust at bay with these tips and recipes to show you how to have a French holiday meal at home. Treat yourself – whether a celebration for one or many, on a modest budget or no expense spared. Celebrate the holidays this year with the joie de vivre we all deserve. 

Left: the interior of a Parisian apartment at Christmastime. There is a large brown velvet couch to the left and a Christmas tree to the left of a fireplace straight ahead. There is a large gold framed mirror over the fireplace. The walls are white and there are hardwood floors. Right: an aerial view of a table with a plate of oysters, bread, butter and a butter knife. The table is dark green and is decorated with pine branches, pine cones and silver snowflakes.
jackiekaiellis / le_salon_francais

Christmas and New Year’s

Le Réveillon de Noël, or Christmas Eve dinner, is the high point of French holiday festivities. The late-night feast usually takes place when families return from midnight mass. Presents are exchanged after dinner or the next morning, and the occasion usually centers around family. New Year’s Eve tends to be celebrated with friends. This being France, of course food is the highpoint for both occasions – lavish and luxurious.

Left: a Galette de Rois cake on a window sill. There is a gold crown on top of the cake and a white curtain draped to the left. Right: a table with winter decorations on it. There is a wreathe made from cranberries and eucalyptus, a white stand with orangs on it, and a bouquet to the right made out of eucalyptus and other greenery. There are copper pans hanging on the wall.

Delicacies and decadence define this time of year. The French entertain in such a seemingly effortless way. One of the secrets is that they combine home-cooked foods with store-bought goods – whether from the traiteur, pâtisserie, or even (gasp!) Picard. The holidays are no exception. 

Left: an aerial view of a cheese platter. There are 5 different types of cheese, a few nuts and dried fruits, and herb sprigs on the black platter. Right: an aerial view of a plate of oysters and another plate with shrimp and other shellfish. There are slices of lemon on the table and there are two people reaching for the food.
fromagerie_biquette / blogdechataigne

Starters: Foie Gras, Smoked Salmon, Caviar, Oysters 

For me, the pièce de resistance of French holiday meals is the starters. Foie gras on brioche and sauternes is synonymous with the holiday season in France. Pan-roasted is a show stopper, but why cook when the ready-to-eat variety is so exquisite? For those on a budget or not able to access foie gras, a simple yet elegant paté – purchased or homemade like this one from Jacques Pépin – would fit the occasion. Another common starter is smoked salmon and/or caviar with crème fraiche and blinis. While caviar is the ultimate in luxury, substitutes such as this trout roe don’t break the bank and would be just as festive. Dorie Greenspan’s recipe is our go-to for buckwheat blinis. If you can’t be bothered, Gwyneth Paltrow has the ultimate hack for caviar canapes. While not traditional, we may just give it a go this year. And of course, the holidays in France would not be the same without oysters. Served with shallot vinaigrette is the norm, but if you’re looking for different ways to present them, Mimi Thorisson has some great alternatives. If you want something lighter but no less festive, this Jerusalem Artichoke Soup fits the bill (and is easy on the wallet!)

Left: a table set for a Christmas eal. There are several place settings with coffee cups. There are several sprigs of pine, red candles that are lit, and reindeer made out of gold. There is a bouquet of pine branches in the top left corner. Right: a table set for a Christmas dinner. there are four place settings with red plates and mini white casserole pots. There is a small lit candle and a small bouquet of pine branches next to a large red casserole in the center of the table.
tearoom_su / lecreusetfrance

Main and Sides 

While sometimes the French will splurge on pricey seafood such as lobster, in many ways, the main course and sides share a lot in common with holiday meals in the US. Turkey with chestnut stuffing is typical, though other poultry like goose, capon, or guinea hens is eaten too. Clotilde Dusoulier has a bunch of fabulous French recipes for the holidays, including a spatchcocked and salt-crusted chicken, as well as a show stopping chicken in a bread crust. Sides could include green beans, brussels sprouts, roast or mashed potatoes, as well as something fresher like this endive and walnut salad.

Left: a table set for a Christmas dinner. There is a center piece made from several candles and small bouquets of red flowers and greenery. There are a few place settings with napkins. Right: an aerial view of a Galette de Rois. The cake is to the right of the photo and there is a serving spoon to the left of the plate. The table is made from white washed wood.
refletsfleurs / thefrancophiles

Cheese Course and Dessert

Of course, it would not be a French meal without a cheese course, though if left to my own devices I might forgo it to leave room for desserts. The typical dessert is the bûche de Noël or Yule log. Most French people would buy this, but should you feel ambitious, you could try your hand at making one. In Provence, the dinner concludes with a selection of thirteen desserts, representing Jesus and the twelve Apostles. These confections include dried fruits and nuts, pain d’épices, bûche de Noël, and calissons d’Aix. Starting in late December and through the month of January, you’ll see the beloved galettes des rois everywhere in France, and I’ve always had them on New Year’s Eve. With a ready-made puff pastry and David Lebovitz’s simple recipe, you could easily make one yourself. Closeout this one-of-kind year and ring in the new one in true, effortless French style. 

Left: a table set for a holiday meal taken from the head of the table. There are 7 plates that are white with a dark blue flower detail painted on them. There are glasses at each place setting and there is a center piece made from blue glass candle holders, fairy lights, and pine branches. Right: a buche de Noel dessert. It is chocolate and covered in powdered sugar and there are mushrooms made from sugar at the base. A few cranberries and sprigs of pine decorate the cake. / craftbakerypensacola

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Left: a Galette de Rois cake on a gold platter with a gold crown on top of it. Some greenery on a window can be seen in the background. Right: a shelf in a French kitchen. The wall is covered with white subway tiles. There are jars with spices, copper pans, and a large white water jug filled with pine branches on the shelf. There are copper pans and a silver cheese grater hanging from the shelf.
mollyjwilk / mariabessieres

Related Links

Left: Christmas decorations in Paris. To the right is a Christmas tree decorated with gold and red ribbons, and to the left is a miniature hot air ballon. It is gold and black and covered with fairy lights. Parisian buildings can be seen in the background. Right: Christmas decorations in Paris. To the right is a Christmas tree decorated with small lights. Parisian buildings can be seen in the background as well as more Christmas trees.
annemaudette /

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HiP Paris

HiP Paris is a lifestyle website about everything Paris and beyond. We enlighten and entertain our community, and share tips and recommendations. We believe in respect for French culture, timeless luxury, being comfortable in your skin, and the simple beauty of French life. Started in 2008, HIP Paris has evolved into a hub for expats and Francophiles. We have been featured in the New York Times, Business Insider, Bloomberg, Buzzfeed, Eater, Bon Appetit, Refinery29 and many other publications. View HiP Paris's Website

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