Five festive French traditions to make your Christmas special!

  1. Have 13 desserts!

In Provence your Christmas Eve feast is finished off with a huge choice of 13 desserts representing Jesus and the 12 apostles at the last supper. It sounds extreme but in fact the 13 different ‘desserts’ are more like a sharing platter of fruits, nuts and sweets that everyone can dip into. The exact components vary from village to village so feel free to adjust things to suit your tastes but the basic selection includes almonds, walnuts or hazelnuts, raisins, dried figs, Fougasse bread with grape jam, black and white nougat, stuffed dates, marzipan sweets, candied melon, waffles, spiced cake and a platter of seasonal fresh fruit.

  1. Burn a yule log

If you have an open fire or log burner why not make a real ‘yule log’ to burn on Christmas Day? You’ll need a piece of cherry wood which you sprinkle with red wine to create a lovely festive scent. Traditionally the Yule Log is lit on Christmas Eve and burns all night long along with some candles, and often plates of food and drinks are left out too – depending on the region it could be for ‘Pére Noel’ or perhaps in case Mary and the baby Jesus pass by in the night. The Perigord tradition is to then burn it until midnight every night until New Year’s Eve but you might need a pretty big log to manage that!

  1. Make ‘papilottes’

Chocolates or candied fruits wrapped in fringed gold paper have been part of a French Christmas since they were invented in Lyon in the 18th Century. Each treat has a motto wrapped inside, rather like a Chinese fortune cookie might have. It was on a visit to Paris in the 19th Century that Tom Smith saw these treats and was inspired to create the Christmas crackers we know in the UK today! Make your own using pretty festive paper and writing your own special mottos to fit your family and friends.

  1. Drink Champagne!

No Christmas meal in France is complete without Champagne! Why not choose a special bottle of bubbly to start your festive celebrations? Whether you go for a Bucks Fizz at brunch, a glass of Kir Royale as an aperitif or drink it as it comes to accompany a delicious seafood starter, there is no doubt that Champagne is the ideal drink for Christmas.

  1. Swap Christmas cake for Buche du Noel

In France the Buche du Noel is served for dessert but it also makes a wonderful centrepiece for a Christmas afternoon tea. The cake is a vanilla Genoise sponge rolled into a log filled with chocolate icing and sometimes sweetened chestnut puree too. The log is iced in chocolate to look like a tree branch and decorated with meringue mushrooms, icing leaves and other decorations and a dusting of icing sugar ‘snow’. For children or those who don’t like a traditional Christmas cake it’s the perfect festive treat.

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