In France, the main meal is enjoyed on Christmas Eve — and it's a parade of "noble" ingredients and delicious flavors.

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It's no surprise that when I first moved to France and ordered a turkey for the fourth Thursday in November, my poor, confused butcher dubbed the holiday "American Christmas." Much like American Thanksgiving, and unlike a tinsel-bedecked American Christmas, a French Christmas is more about the food than decorations, gifts, or pretty much anything else! Recreating a French Christmas at home takes a bit of time and effort, but you'll be rewarded with a true feast.

Begin with Bubbles and Amuses Bouches

The main French Christmas meal tends to take place, not on the 25th, but on the 24th, and it's a feast of epic proportions. The multi-course affair usually begins with Champagne, and of course, Champagne is best served with nibbles. Christmas is traditionally pegged as a time to pull out all the stops, so amuses bouches to accompany France's most famous bubbly may include foie gras, caviar, smoked salmon, and oysters. Smoked salmon is delicious prepared in a simple tartare or served in cucumber cups. Oysters, a French delicacy, are frequently simply shucked and served on the half-shell with mignonette sauce (a combination of vinegar and shallots), but if you're not a fan of the raw mollusks, Oysters Rockefeller is a great way to show off their sweet, briny flavor.

Smoked Salmon Tartare
Smoked Salmon Tartare
| Credit: France C

Appetizers

For an appetizer, the parade of "noble" ingredients continues. Seafood is a popular choice, particularly scallops. On French market stalls, scallops are most often sold in their shells, and it's a favorite way to cook and serve them too, as in this recipe for Saint-Jacques with a tarragon cream sauce. That said, if you can't find in-shell scallops, simple baked scallops with breadcrumbs are just as lovely an option.

Escargots are another popular first course choice, served broiled with garlic butter either in their shells, in mushroom caps, or in decorative puff pastry vol-au-vents (so named because they are light enough to float away on the wind).

Awesome Baked Sea Scallops
Awesome Baked Sea Scallops
| Credit: Allrecipes

Starters like these are admittedly heavy and filling, and since we're only just getting things started at this point, some families will opt for lighter appetizers. Fish tartares are a beautiful choice and surprisingly easy to make at home. Start with sushi-grade tuna or salmon, and use a tuna can with both the top and bottom cut out as a makeshift ring mold for a gorgeous, restaurant-worthy presentation.

Main Dish

The French main event is, more often than not, a turkey, usually served with a seasonal chestnut stuffing (it's no surprise my poor butcher was so confused!) But if you're not keen to repeat the same roast you enjoyed in November, you could also opt for other poultry, such as duck or capon. You can also enjoy your roasted chestnuts on the side (with or without Brussels sprouts). While poultry is by far the most traditional French main, some families do deviate, enjoying pork roast, ham, or even game meats like wild boar.

Carving a roast turkey
Juicy Roast Turkey
| Credit: Allrecipes

As with most traditional French meals, a cheese course usually follows the main event, often with at least one truffle-dusted contender: Brie, triple-cream Brillat-Savarin, or double-cream Chaource are all delightful options. Whatever cheese you choose, be sure to serve with good-quality French bread (and if you don't have a great bakery near you, you can easily make your own baguette).

Dessert Course

But wait… there's more! No French meal would be complete without some of their famous pastry, and the Christmas choice is a no-brainer: bûche de Noël or Yule Log. This delicacy is made by rolling baked and cooled genoise around a buttercream frosting and then, as the cake's name suggests, decorating it to resemble a log. Each year, French pastry chefs début their iteration of this classic to members of the press as early as August. With so many delicious options to choose from, French families often outsource this final touch of artistry to the pros. Some buy a pastry "bûche" from the local patisserie, others opt for a store-bought ice cream version, which is said to be lighter. That said, a homemade Yule Log is a beautiful feat of baking and decoration, with marzipan, meringue, and more. Since it can be made in advance, it can also be a delightful baking project to share with the whole family.

Chocolate Yule Log
Chocolate Yule Log
| Credit: Chef John

A French Christmas dinner can often last for hours, and it's no surprise! But if when the cake has been consumed you have room for one more morsel, opt for a clementine or mandarin. Once a common Christmas gift, this cute little citrus remains both a decorative option and a light way to finish a meal that has been an exploration of excess. Of course, a digestif like Armagnac is a wholly different — but just as enjoyable — way to put a finishing touch on the meal. Or do as les Provençaux, and go big with Les Treize Desserts.

Joyeux Noël!

Check out our collection of French Recipes.