26th January 2022
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What is a Réveillon or La Saint-Sylvestre?Here are the latest news from Beth in her dream country house in rural France after discovering the exhausting expérience of "Les Fêtes de Fin d'Année". I wonder if Beth knows how early in advance some these people start preparing their Christmas, often around September, time of the holiday defining Foire aux Vins. We have written about the Réveillon previously, but here's 2021's vintage edition from "le grand" southwest, enjoy.
Even though New Year’s Eve seems an age ago, for us, happy memories of another fantastic French feast remain.
Courtesy of covid, many folks’ celebrations were subdued again this year. But when it comes to dining in France, some traditions have to be observed. And at the year’s end, the one revered throughout the country is Le Réveillon.
Le Réveillon refers to both Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, though it is more associated with the latter here in the southwest. Somewhat confusingly, New Year’s Eve is also known as Le Réveillon de Saint-Sylvestre or La Fête de Saint-Sylvestre. I confess that I had to go digging to find out who he was.
Saint Sylvester was pope from 314 to 335 AD. And while little is known about his life, it is said that he cured Constantine of leprosy with blessed water. It was an act that allegedly helped encourage Constantine to convert to Christianity. But who really knows?
Saint Sylvester died on the 31st of December. As a tribute to his good works, his death was commemorated in France by a feast and celebrations. That homage continues today. Among the endless banquet menu favourites, there are some stalwarts.
We’ve been to several Le Réveillon feasts, and they have all included oysters, in the raw, perhaps with an indulgent squirt of lemon. Yep, over 80,000 tonnes of these vitamin-packed molluscs are consumed by the French during Christmas and New Year. Sadly, love them though I do; I’m generally foiled at base one by opening the shell. I’m not an expert shucker.
Then we have foie gras. It’s a delicacy, particularly adored in Occitane. Foie gras is an emblem of French gastronomy, and our region claims to be its kingdom. It tends to be produced by families who have passed their production skill secrets down generations. It’s more of a cottage industry than a mass manufacturing affair.
The traditional method of producing this fat-packed liver dish is free-range rearing ducks and geese. They are fattened up with corn, which creates that special liver. For aficionados, the results are spectacular.
Many people describe foie gras as tasting like meat-flavoured butter with subtle nutty notes. It’s rich, very rich, yet somehow not sickly. Strangely, given its production method, foie gras really does have that melt in your mouth, silky taste.
Snails, smoked salmon, and various crustaceans often grace the table, and then there is a meat course. We have usually been served a game casserole, and sanglier (wild boar) is a regular. Served in a rich sauce and washed down with a deep, full-bodied red, it’s hard to beat.
The list of probable desserts is long, but since we live in a fruit-growing area, an apple tartelette is always on the menu. Usually offered with a blob of vanilla ice cream or cream on the side, it is accompanied by a dessert or sparkling wine.
And just when we’re fit to burst, as the clock strikes midnight, poppers are pulled, and fireworks ignited. Champagne glasses are refilled, chinked, and someone will appear with a sprig of gui, nowadays perhaps offering a fist bump rather than the traditional kiss. Yes, kissing under the mistletoe is a ritual reserved for la Saint-Sylvestre.
So, if you are ever invited to join the Le Réveillon in France, my advice is to accept. Try to fast beforehand, and maybe even have a nap during the day. Because you’ll likely be in for a night of feasting, fun and celebrations that will last into the early hours. It’s a fabulous event!
Thank you Beth for your contribution and lovely stories, et Bonne Année to your family and your 4 legged friends. Check out her books called Fat Dogs & French Estates, they’re on sale on Amazon, and perfect those cosy evenings by the (French) fireplace with a nice glass of wine from these guys.