Catholic Creoles in New Orleans have observed the centuries-old French Christmas Eve tradition Réveillon de Noël since the 19th century. Réveillon means “awaken” and the significance of the event is to enter Christmas Day feteing the birth of Christ.Festivities begin with a daylong fast on Christmas Eve that ends with a grand feast after returning home from midnight mass. The fare included Creole standards such as gumbo and shrimp creole, as well as meat pies made with wild game, oyster stew and turtle soup, souffles and cassoulets, fowl like roasted pheasant and chicken, lavish desserts such as bûche de Noël or croquembouche, brandy and coffee.
As time passed, the tradition has experienced changes to accommodate a modern lifestyle though some Creoles of Color continue to observe it in New Orleans and in other parts of the country. There are restaurants that offer a Réveillon brunch or multi-course dinner on Christmas Eve.
James Beard semi-finalist, pastry chef and patisserie owner Simone Fauré (La Pâtisserie Chouquette) observes Réveillon with her family and close friends in St. Louis. “Yes we do and we do it up in a big way,” she said. One can only imagine what is served but it has to be good given Simone’s husband, Damien, is a French-born chef while Simone is from New Orleans. During the week before Christmas, La Pâtisserie Chouquette hosts a reservation-only Réveillon tea that features a chef-paired loose leaf tea of one’s choice and sumptuous small bites of sweet and savory treats such as braised short rib & goat cheese crostini, petite crawfish pie, cranberry & brie phyllo, butter pecan scones, petite yule log and black forest trifle. For the holidays, customers could pre-order bûche de Noël and other goodies.
Using Chef Simone Fauré’s enthusiasm as inspiration, here are a few tips to add touches of Réveillon to add a flourish to your holiday festivities, whether celebrating with a few or many.
- Have fun with your beverages. Find brandy and cognac punch recipes for the adults who enjoy a strong drink. Choose champagne or another sparkling wine like Vouvray to share a midnight toast on Christmas Eve, and serve the littles sparkling juice in champagne flutes or coupes. Don’t forget the hot beverages that can be served with a candy cane or stick of cinnamon to add flavor.
- Consider a crawfish (if available) or seafood or veggie quiche to tide people over until a larger meal is served. A quiche is also a great way to break a fast.
- Don’t have time to bake or have access to a genuine bûche de Noël? Somewhere near you is a bakery that sells eclairs, and other puffed, cream-filled pastries. They make excellent parting gifts for guests as well as a simple dessert option.
- Create a simple charcuterie board that has thin (and thick) slices of French bread, andouille sausage, brie and goat cheese garnished with fruit and nuts. Choose mustards – sweet or savory – for dipping. Consider adding a dish of rémoulade.
- Consider creating a vegan version of red beans and rice and bread pudding for vegan and vegetarian guests. Maybe pick up a plant-based cheese that can be consumed as an appetizer with crackers and fruit.
Keep in mind that Réveillon is fancy and grand, which can be translated in small touches without all of the work. For example, use your good china and crystal. And even if you don’t attend a midnight church service, this can be easily implemented after an evening movie or trip around the neighborhood to view Christmas lights. Réveillon is completely adaptable to your lifestyle.
(Photos: Simone Fauré)