In France, and some other French-speaking countries, a réveillon is a long dinner, sometimes followed by entertainment or dancing, held on the evenings preceding Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. The name of this dinner is based on the word réveil (waking) because participation involves staying awake until midnight and beyond.
The food consumed at réveillons is generally luxurious or exceptional in nature. For instance, appetizers may include lobster, oysters, escargots or foie gras, etc. The main dish may consist of game (boar, deer…) or another special dish. One traditional dish at family réveillons is turkey with chestnuts.
Dessert may consist of a bûche de Noël (Yule log), a cake shaped in the form of a log, often flavoured with chocolate, coffee or chestnut, frosted and decorated. In Provence, the big meal is traditionally crowned with 13 desserts: a selection of thirteen different sweet treats are served, almost invariably including: pompe à l’huile (a flavoured bread), dates, nougat, etc.
The wine and champagne consumed during a réveillon dinner will usually be the best selection available.
There are certain traditional differences of character between the Christmas and New Year’s Day réveillons.
Christmas is traditionally a Christian occasion, celebrated with an accent on the family, and this tradition has been retained even among non-believers.
On New Year’s Eve, or Saint-Sylvestre, the réveillon is more of an all-out party with family and/or friends. People may also go out to a show, or have their dinner at a restaurant making sure to book ahead of time as Réveillon dinners are planned and elaborate affairs and the best tables sell out quickly. According to French tradition, a proper meal on New Year’s Eve will bring prosperity to the household.