Last Saturday we were invited for dinner at the home of one of our neighbors on our “old” street; that is, where the rental house is located vs. the “new” street where we’ve bought a house. Of course those terms are both relative when you live someplace where the castle has been defending the land for about 1000 years or so. The first gathering we had attended like this was just two weeks after we moved to France and those invitations with the resulting fun evenings haven’t stopped. But this was going to be different since it was Christmas Eve and we’d read about the Réveillon, a feast often served after midnight mass. We were going to need some extra sleep!
In anticipation of the holiday season, some weeks ago we had asked new friends about how people celebrate Christmas here and especially about that late night/early morning meal. They told us that while historically there was an “awakening” feast enjoyed well after midnight of December 24, many people moved the start time to several hours before that. Although we are anxious to assimilate into the local culture as much and as quickly as possible, I can’t say that we were disappointed to see that the evening was going to begin at 8:00 PM. That’s exactly when we arrived, as did most of the other guests, so in very short order the party had started.
As the evening began, our host explained that this would not be a traditional reveillon that typically starts with fresh oysters and champagne, followed by roast turkey, and concludes with 13 desserts. Instead, by request, we brought a pitcher of margaritas to accompany the trays of homemade appetizers that greeted us. There must have been at least 8 different kinds including sausages, pastry puffs, pates, and foie gras. Two huge green mixed salads, dressed at the table, then took center stage. The main course was roasted sanglier (we might know it better as wild boar), mashed potatoes, and sauteed mushrooms. Different types of cheese from all around France filled the tray that was next presented to us. A homemade apple tart plus a Bûche de Noël, a yule log cake, gave a truly sweet end to this feast capped off by coffee. Did I mention the white wine, red wine, and sparkling crémant from the nearby town of Limoux?
Just the day before this dinner party I saw an article about how to avoid making a fool of yourself at Christmas parties in France, so I was anxious to see what advice they offered. I didn’t know that if you bring a knife as a gift, superstition says it means that you want to sever the friendship. Mistletoe is used in decorations here but it’s to bring good luck, so standing below it is not going to get you a kiss. Next came some common sense suggestions like not drinking too much, not filling glasses to the rim, and toasting the other guests before taking your first drink. Then followed some “rules” that we’ve seen listed on several websites such as never show up on time for a party, never take wine for dinner, and never talk politics. Perhaps those apply in big cities and/or other parts of France but we’ve always been on time, always taken wine (generally by request), and one of the first topics of discussion has always been politics, especially the US elections.
When our host said that Saturday night’s dinner was not going to be “traditional”, perhaps she was right in the historical sense but for the newcomers in the crowd we found the warm welcome of good food, good friends, and good conversation to be our kind of tradition.