Vive La Difference – French Noel v British Christmas

French Christmas traditions vs British

Oh la la, we are merely divided by a small channel of water and as such you wouldn’t necessarily think our festivities at Christmas time would be very different, however you would be wrong! We set out to take a closer look at our British Christmas traditions vs Christmas a la Francais.

xmas paris

Christmas Eve plays a much larger role in the French festivities, while in Britain we all make sure our stockings are hung up by the fireplace, which stems from a legend that a poor widower whose daughters did not have enough money to marry hung up stockings to dry by the fireplace and St Nicholas who loved to give gifts secretly delivered gold coins in each stocking for all three daughters to marry. French children put wooden shoes in front of the fireplace, in the hopes that Père Noël (Father Christmas) will fill them with gifts such as sweets, fruit and small toys.

French homes, like British ones, have a beautifully decorated Christmas tree; a German tradition from the 16th century and adopted by most of northern Europe in the 19th century. In Britain it was Queen Victoria in the 1840’s who started the trend, while in France it was introduced in the same period by the duchesse d’Orléans.

In many French homes Christmas Eve is the main feast day, not Christmas Day. While we all tuck into our Turkey on the 25th December after spending the morning cooking the large roast lunch, the French home will spend all day on the 24th December preparing for festivities in the evening. As we British may pre-order our turkey, the French have often pre-ordered a Capon (a capon is a castrated rooster; which makes the meat tender and the bird larger).

In the early evening, French guests arrive for the celebrations, the first aperitif is often a glass of champagne, while for gentlemen, and it’s often a whiskey. The French meal begins with a plateau of seafood; smoked salmon and most importantly oysters (see previous blog post about French oysters!). Generally, it continues with foie gras (in the southwest of France I’m assured this is almost mandatory), this it’s often accompanied with bread and walnuts. The main course is often a Capon stuffed with chestnuts and served with vegetables and potato croquettes. There is then a Cheese platter and salad with bacon and slices of smoked duck.

The French dessert is usually a bûche de Noël (Yule log) while in Britain we have a Christmas pudding. The Yule Log is a glamorous sponge cake roulade and usually frosted with chocolate buttercream. The cake dates back to the 19th century and represents the burning of a large log in the medieval period to bring good luck. However our humble Christmas pudding, a boiled dried fruit desert with Brandy has been traditionally served on Christmas Day since early medieval times, and putting a silver coin in the pudding is said to bring good luck to the person who finds it.

The children in both countries are obviously excited for their gifts to arrive on Christmas Day, and while some families in both countries attend midnight mass on Christmas Eve, both sides of the channel leave a little snack and a drink for a very important visitor and his reindeer.

The spirit of Christmas in both countries is still a delight to all who share in the magic. Speaking of which, taking a look at the Retro Bistrot menu this Christmas, it is a wonderful combination of the best of both worlds. It combines seasonal winter flavours from both sides of the channel, such as Walnut and Quince, with classic Fillet of Salmon and Roasted Turkey, and then a choice of Pot au Chocolat and Crème Chantilly with Hazelnut Biscotti or traditional Christmas pudding with Brandy Crème Anglaise. Retro Bistrot has provided an expert taste of France and fused it effortlessly with the traditional flavours of an English Christmas. Enjoy!

Merry Christmas & Joyeux Noël to all

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