Christmas in the Dordogne

December 30, 2016 Sarah G

Spend Christmas in a Gite?

Every country does Christmas slightly differently, naturally the French have their own Christmas traditions which we enjoy where we live in the Dordogne.. The fun of Christmas in France happens mostly in the build up to Christmas Day, the highlight of the festive season being le Réveillon (Christmas Eve). On the evening of December 24th, French families sit down together to celebrate Christmas and enjoy a variety of the most delicious dishes, including sea food platters with oysters, Turkey stuffed with chestnuts and foie gras and wines. The Réveillon dinner can continue for up to six hours and it is a very sacred tradition to the French. For Dessert every French home will have its Bûche de Noël in the form of the traditional cake made from a Génoise or sponge cake, generally baked in a large, shallow pan, then rolled into a cylinder, frosted and decorated. Many variations of this cake are now available including some that are not cakes at all but made of sorbet, ice cream.


The origin of the tradition comes from the rather enormous and very dense log that was burned in the hearth as a part of traditional Christmas celebrations. It sometimes consisted of an entire tree trunk with one end burning inside the hearth while the rest of the trunk stuck out into the room. The log was specially selected for the occasion, originally to mark the winter solstice, and carried in the main room to provide maximum lasting and reassuring warmth. It must have been quite an event.

On Christmas Eve, small French children put their shoes in front of the fireplace (or at the bottom of the Christmas tree), in the hopes that Père Noël (“Father Christmas”) – Santa Claus – will fill them with gifts. If the household is made of older children, there is no need to wait until December 25th to unwrap the gifts! Usually, the kids will start unwrapping at 12 am sharp on Christmas Eve, while the parents are still feasting on delicacies and Champagne.

Food is still a very important part of Christmas day, particularly at lunch time when it is common to eat the left overs from the Christmas Eve feast or to go celebrate with another side of the family (in laws).

On the 12th day of Christmas or the feast of Ephiphany, the French celebrate by eating one final pastry – known as the galette des rois or “cake of kings”. Inside the cake is hidden a charm known as a fève. Whoever finds it in their portion is a king or queen and wins the right to wear the crown and choose their partner.