French traditions : all about food & family

I thought I would give my readers a peak into how the French, or at least my French family, celebrate Christmas. For many of the French Christmas Eve and Christmas day are spent with family and New Year’s Eve is spent with friends. There are 4 siblings in my brother’s family, but two of his brothers live far away and didn’t travel this year. So my SIL and I shared responsibilities, she did the 24th and I did the 25th.

Before the 24th / 25th

My husband & I spend a lot of time planning the menu. Food is a huge part of the traditions, so we need to anticipate what needs to be ordered, prepped, pre-cooked, made.

The Saturday before Christmas we finalized the menu and tried to buy most of what we needed.

The 24th : My sister in law hosts dinner

My husband was off so he spent a good part of the day cooking for the 25th. After I ran, I went to the movies with my daughter.

In the evening, we went to mass as a family (France is a very Catholic country). It is near my SIL’s home, so they went early and reserved seats because it is standing room only. Mass started at 7:30 p.m. and was done at 8:45 p.m., then we head over to my SIL’s. There were 13 of us. My family of 4, my SIL’s family of 6, my mother in law, my brother in laws’ mother and a friend.

The evening’s menu (keeping in mind that my SIL is an amazing cook and spent hours / days preparing & cooking) :

  • Drinks first (always champagne) with some munchies : parmesan / olive ‘cookies’, cherry tomatoes, radishes, some munchie with smoked salmon. This lasts from about 9:30 to 10:15 p.m. I try not to eat too much because I know that my SIL has prepared an amazing meal, as always!

2014-12-25 00.05.56

About 10:15 we get up to move to the table but before sitting, my BIL spends time on the seating arrangement, very important in France ! There are only 3 men out of 13 people, so male / female seating is not possible. Also, husband and wives do not sit together once they have been married for more than a year, and you have to think about you who put next to the older guests. So it takes him a good 5 minutes to think things through and get everyone in place.

  • Entree : fois gras (goose liver paté) that my SIL bought uncooked and cooked herself with special spices and there is smoked salmon for those who do not like foie gras. We spend 15 minutes talking about the foie gras and how wonderful it is and how we love the spices she used.
  • Main dish : Capon (you can only get them at Xmas) with morel mushrooms and chestnuts, served with a wine sauce and white rice. AMAZING. We spend 30 minutes talking about the capon. What it is exactly, why you can only find them at Christmas, how she prepared it, the special wine that it was cooked in…
  • Cheese. I didn’t have any, I was too full.
  • Dessert : Usually a traditional Yule Log. My mother in law made one, and my SIL made a second family recipe. We compare them. Some people liked it when it is cooked a bit more, others prefer when it is not as cooked. What kind of chocolate was used ? More time spent discussing food.

We don’t always have a hot main dish, and the dinner on the 24th is often “lighter”. Besides food, most of the meal is spent talking about politics, the economy and family members we are missing who could not be with us. Dinner is done at midnight. We are home in bed by 1 a.m.

(pictures are from last year, I didn’t take any this year)
2014-12-24 22.31.16


Christmas Day

I was up by 8, my husband and children around 9/ 9:30. The four of us opened presents around 10 or so. We don’t do stockings, but the French lay out shoes, and the gifts are placed with your shoe.


From 10:30 to 1:30 we cooked everything that could be anticipated, cleaned, picked up and I even took a short nap. I had to fit 11 people at our table so I rearranged the living area a bit, set the table and had to find 11 chairs. My girls were a very big help.


Anytime we have guests, we use our fine china.


My SIL and her family arrived around 2 p.m. Firstly we had drinks (more champagne) with tomatoes, olives and some nuts. My husband puts in the roast. My MIL opens her gifts and we do a small exchange (gifts for one child of the other family & for each couple).


At 3 p.m. we sit down to eat. More foie gras with some special jams. Of course we have to compare the foie gras with my SIL’s from the night before. She cooked hers, we bought ours, so she gets more brownie points :).


Then the roast. This is our tradition, because we have the most amazing butcher ever. We are never disappointed.  I would never dare change the menu because everyone talks so much about our roast ! We talk about the roast for 20 minutes. How much does it weigh ? Is it cooked enough ? Does the wine go well with it ?… you get the picture !

No cheese because I knew we would be too full (but often there is cheese). Then dessert, another family tradition, my husband’s favorite. It is called the Bon Jeune Homme (Good young boy) and in short it is like a chocolate caramel served with Creme Anglais. It is a “liquid” dessert. We spent at least 20 minutes talking about the dessert, comparing it to the other years, critiquing the thickness of the Creme anglais, the sweetness of the chocolate.

We then have coffee and skype for an hour with those who could not be with us. My BIL and is family are in Africa.


Everyone leaves around 6 p.m. We watch a movie, play with our Christmas presents (I pick up, clean, do laundry, vacuum), and enjoy the rest of the evening together.

The year was very typical of our French family traditions. Of course, during the week marathon training continued, I am almost half way there.

I am linking up with Holly and Tricia at Hoho runs and Misssippipiddlin for their Weekly Wrap. Be sure to check them out as well as the other bloggers. So much fun catching up every week !



Tell me some of your family traditions ! Do you think the French traditions vary greatly from the American traditions ?

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Comments: 32

  1. Coco December 28, 2015 at 1:11 pm Reply

    These sound like great traditions — and so much delicious food! I go to church on Christmas Eve, but we eat a light meal first and just have a few Christmas cookies when we get home.
    Coco recently posted…My 2015 HighlightsMy Profile

    • Karen - Fit in France December 28, 2015 at 3:12 pm Reply

      Sounds like a wonderful tradition to me !

  2. Judy @ Chocolaterunsjudy December 28, 2015 at 1:50 pm Reply

    OMG, I’m usually asleep by 9 pm — that would kill me! I also detest being told where to sit, and prefer for everyone to seat themselves, no doubt stemming to the fact that my father is very controlling and seating was no exception.

    But it sounds like you had a lovely Christmas and it’s always interesting to learn about others’ traditions.
    Judy @ Chocolaterunsjudy recently posted…Running Christmas Lights in a Sparkleskirt: 12/21-12/27 Weekly WrapMy Profile

    • Karen - Fit in France December 28, 2015 at 3:11 pm Reply

      The French can be very big on etiquette and seating arrangements are part of that.

  3. Tina@GottaRunNow December 28, 2015 at 2:01 pm Reply

    It’s fun to see how others celebrate. I like to bake cookies at Christmas – tried a new recipe this year for sugar cookies that we liked.
    Tina@GottaRunNow recently posted…Running News (December 23)My Profile

    • Karen - Fit in France December 28, 2015 at 3:10 pm Reply

      Sugar cookies were a tradition when I was young ! We would always color them green and red.

  4. Michelle December 28, 2015 at 3:02 pm Reply

    I love seeing all of your traditions!! Sounds lovely!

    • Karen - Fit in France December 28, 2015 at 3:13 pm Reply

      Thank you

  5. Wendy@Taking the Long Way Home December 28, 2015 at 3:34 pm Reply

    I think I’d love a French Christmas. I find it interesting that the French are all about food, yet they don’t have the obesity problem we have here in the US.
    Wendy@Taking the Long Way Home recently posted…Running with the devilMy Profile

    • Karen - Fit in France December 29, 2015 at 7:00 am Reply

      You’re right. I think its because 1) the portions are half the size they are in the US and 2) very little in between meal snacking

  6. Elizabeth December 28, 2015 at 3:58 pm Reply

    Thank you for the summary of your holiday and traditions. Both dinners sounds excellent!
    Elizabeth recently posted…Naples Half / Broke Man’s WWU Training Week 8My Profile

    • Karen - Fit in France December 29, 2015 at 6:59 am Reply

      Very good, but I need to make an effort to eat small quantities. I never serve myself twice.

  7. Darlene December 28, 2015 at 6:01 pm Reply

    The French really know how to eat!!
    Darlene recently posted…Monday Running UpdateMy Profile

    • Karen - Fit in France December 29, 2015 at 6:58 am Reply

      Yes, they do !

  8. Deborah @ Confessions of a mother December 28, 2015 at 8:34 pm Reply

    I love taking out my china a few times a year too! Looks like you and your family had a wonderful day
    Deborah @ Confessions of a mother recently posted…The Best of Meatless Monday 2015My Profile

    • Karen - Fit in France December 29, 2015 at 6:58 am Reply

      We use our china a lot. Not just at Xmas, but for most dinners with friends too. I love it.

  9. Tricia@MissSippipiddlin December 28, 2015 at 9:23 pm Reply

    I think I’d like the French Christmas too! I could do the midnight meal, I’m more of a night owl sometimes. I loved reading about your traditions and all the details about it, It is so neat about the shoes vs the stockins.
    I shook things up around my house for sure. My husband and I took off for Christmas and started our own tradition. I had the blessing of my daughter and his daughter was already supposed to be out of town so away we went and we have no regrets about it!
    So even being half way through your marathon training, do you think you’ll do another one? See you in 2016!
    Tricia@MissSippipiddlin recently posted…Weekly Wrap #21 Stone Mountain ChristmasMy Profile

    • Karen - Fit in France December 29, 2015 at 6:57 am Reply

      I saw you went away. I thought about doing that one year, maybe when our kids are older. But my husband now has a job that requires him to work at the end of the year…. so a Xmas trip will not be in our near future.
      Yes, thinking about a second marathon in the fall, but it has taken me 3 full days to recover from my 17 mile run Saturday, so I need to see how my body will recover from the long distances over time. It was tough and my legs were TIRED! What about you ? Ready for your marathon ?

  10. Mary Beth Jackson December 28, 2015 at 10:58 pm Reply

    Thanks for sharing! I love your family traditions, how interesting to get to take a peek at your holiday. Of course I would have eaten my arm off if we did not eat dinner until after 9 but it looked like a fabulous time!!!
    Mary Beth Jackson recently posted…Lovin’ the 4 day weekend!My Profile

    • Karen - Fit in France December 29, 2015 at 6:55 am Reply

      LOL ! which is why I have something to eat before going to mass. Else I get to my sister in laws and overeat on all the before dinner munchies, then dinner is ruined.

  11. Lisa @ Running Out Of WIne December 29, 2015 at 1:34 am Reply

    Wow, your Christmas eve goes very late! We eat dinner around 7 and are in bed by 10- sometimes earlier:) It was so interesting reading about your traditions, thanks for sharing!
    Lisa @ Running Out Of WIne recently posted…Christmas Week WorkoutsMy Profile

    • Karen - Fit in France December 29, 2015 at 6:54 am Reply

      In the past people would go to mass at midnight and eat afterwards… but that is way to late for me ! and for families with kids.

  12. HoHo Runs December 29, 2015 at 2:10 am Reply

    I’ve never heard of the tradition of putting out your shoe. Very interesting. The food sounds and looks divine. I also cooked a roast for Christmas dinner (with mashed potatoes) which is a deviation from our normal ham or turkey. My MIL gave me Christmas china years ago and it always comes out for Christmas dinner. Tradition! Your celebrations sound lovely as they were spent with family. That’s what it is all about. Thanks for linking with us Karen and giving us a peek into your French holiday! Happy New Year!
    HoHo Runs recently posted…Whew! (WW # 21)My Profile

    • Karen - Fit in France December 29, 2015 at 6:53 am Reply

      Special china for Christmas is a wonderful tradition in my book ! I find the kids don’t handle any deviation from tradition well…. so anytime we change a minor thing, we talk about it forever….

  13. karen December 29, 2015 at 4:36 am Reply

    It is fun to hear how you celebrate! It all sounds fancy and fun 🙂 We were at home alone this year so it was really quiet. My hubby cooks, he is much better than I lol That way he knows it will taste yummy.
    karen recently posted…The Last Link Up for 2015My Profile

    • Karen - Fit in France December 29, 2015 at 6:52 am Reply

      Its nice to have a husband who cooks ! I do too and consider myself lucky

  14. Jennifer @ Run Jenny Run December 29, 2015 at 9:30 pm Reply

    I always enjoy reading about your French traditions! I love your champagne glassware!
    Jennifer @ Run Jenny Run recently posted…Catching Up: Run, Fun and Food!My Profile

    • Karen - Fit in France December 31, 2015 at 8:15 am Reply

      My champagne glassware has been in the family for a LONG time and was handed down to me by my MIL. I love it too.

  15. Debra @HappyRunningSole December 30, 2015 at 5:09 am Reply

    So neat to learn about your traditions! Your china is beautiful and the food sounds delicious! Hope you have a Happy New Year!
    Debra @HappyRunningSole recently posted…2015 Running RecapMy Profile

    • Karen - Fit in France December 31, 2015 at 8:14 am Reply

      Thanks Debra, you too.

  16. Frederic December 21, 2016 at 10:43 pm Reply

    Family reunions is what makes holidays so special and you seem to have a great one. Reading about your holiday times is a pleasure, thank you for sharing. Wishing you to have as much pleasure during this year’s christmas!

    • Karen - Fit in France December 23, 2016 at 7:24 am Reply

      Thank you ! Traditions are so important.

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