Our family has embarked on virtual travels to various countries and regions. To explore these countries and their cultures, we have followed along with the festivals, cooked and eaten traditional foods, learned of traditional handicrafts with hands on exploration, along with many activities to immerse ourselves. Chronicled here are some of these activities.

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Friday, December 12, 2014

Our French Canadian Roots: Christmas Tradition of 'Le Réveillon' & Recipe for Tourtiere (Meat Pie)

We've been getting ready for Christmas, a time of year filled with so many traditions. As a family, we've "created" our own traditions over the years based on our preferences. It's also the time of year that we share with our children the Christmas traditions we grew up with - and the most important Christmas celebration for many French Canadians is 'Le Réveillon'.

Le Réveillon takes place Christmas eve. Families gather together, attend midnight mass and return to a feast, festive merriment and the opening of presents. "Réveillon" is the French word for "awakening" and everyone is up and awake for most of the night, getting sustenance to remain awake with the food (and libations) offered during the midnight meal. It's celebrated throughout Quebec, many areas in Northern Ontario and in many Acadian communities in the Maritimes.

Hubby and I both share memories of staying up for réveillon. Some of my fondest Christmas memories were when we visited my maternal grandparents over Christmas. Celebrations included my mothers seven brothers and sisters, and her very many aunts and uncles who came by after church. My earliest memories are rather blurry - not with time, but with the quality of dreams as I remember often nodding off to the sound of raucous singing of traditional French Christmas songs, desperately trying to stay up with the adults.  As I grew older, and my aunts & uncles started having children, celebrations became a little tamer. We started attending church earlier, first at 10pm, then at 8. We continued to gather afterwards at my grandparents for the traditional feast, and wait for Pere Noel to stop by at midnight (invariably an uncle who had stepped out). Gifts were handed out, and while the kids played the adults did their exchange before everyone headed home packing up their sleeping children.

The réveillon feast usually included ham, stew, cheese, crackers, patés and crudités. It has changed and adapted over the years, but there are 3 dishes that are always present: Tourtiere, Tarte au sucre, and Buche de Noel. The sugar pie is a delicious, incredibly sweet pie made essentially with sugar (find our recipe here) and is what I always looked forward to eating. Buche de Noel is a cake shaped like a yule log, and growing up it was always an ice cream log. I remember being so excited to be given the task to go down into the cellar and get "la buche de Noel" from the deep freeze. 

Buches de Noel (Christmas Logs)
Photo Credit: Appaloosa
The centerpiece of the réveillon meal is the tourtiere. It's a French Canadian meat pie, and essential for a proper réveillon. Hubby and my Acadian brother in law both remember looking forward to digging in to tourtiere the minute they were allowed, and don't consider it Christmas without one. 


Though our family is much smaller, being a blended family we have many, many different schedules to juggle over Christmas, so we don't celebrate réveillon every year. When we do, we have a Christmas dinner of ham and all the trimmings with my sister, and other family members in town around supper time on Christmas eve. We then stay up playing games and singing carols until midnight, at which point the kids race to their stockings and gifts are exchanged between the adults. Then the tourtiere comes out with fanfare, though at this point the kids are usually asleep on the couch. Families return to their homes, get to sleep in a little on Christmas morning, though not nearly as much as you'd think considering how late the kids were up. Like many families in North America, we are shaken awake by the girls to open their presents under the tree. For breakfast, we pull out a second tourtiere.


Makes one 9" deep dish meat pie

Tourtiere recipes are a little different with each family, and can be vastly different depending on the area you are from. In certain regions of Quebec, they are made with finely diced meat with either beef, pork, veal and/or wild game. The tourtieres hubby and I grew up with (and continue to enjoy) are made of ground meat. Some have only ground pork, while others have a combination of ground pork and another meat - beef, veal, even goose. My grandmother made with a combination of pork and beef, and that's what I do as well. Although tourtieres are associated with Christmas, we eat them all year round - especially when my father or hubby's parents are visiting. They make a great breakfast (or lunch, or supper) eaten traditionally with baked beans. Some people like theirs with ketchup, and others with gravy (though my mother was aghast at this addition - which I guess means isn't common in Quebec).

The meat filling needs to be made ahead of time in order to cool before putting it into a pie crust. It also takes some time to make the filling, so this isn't a quick weekday meal. I like to double the recipe to make two, put them in the freezer and take them out to bake on Christmas eve. You can make your own favorite pie crust recipe, but since I rarely succeed with pie crust, I just buy 9" deep dish pie crusts. 

  • 1 lb ground pork
  • 1 lb lean ground beef
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 large potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 1 cup beef broth
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • salt to taste
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 1 egg
  • 2 deep dish pie crusts
1. Heat oil on medium heat in a large skillet and cook onions until golden and translucent, for about 10 minutes.

2. Mix the two meats together in a bowl with your hands, then add to the onions and cook, stirring for about 10 minutes, until the meat is no longer pink. While stirring, break up any clumps - you want the texture to be a fine crumb. 

3. After 10 minutes, add the diced potatoes, the broth and the spices. Cook on low for about 45 minutes, until the juices are reduced and the potatoes start to fall apart. Stir occasionally, again making sure to break up any clumps. Season with salt and pepper to taste, take off the burner and let cool. At this point, I take a potato masher and go over the filling a couple times to make sure there are no clumps of meat - but then I'm especially particular about not biting into a clump of meat. Once cooled down, refrigerate until completely cooled, approximately 3 hours. 

4. Fill a pie crust with the meat filling, packing it down. Cover with your second pie crust, "smoosh" down and trim the edges. (Though storebought, doesn't that pie crust look homemade? It's all about the decorative "smooshing"). Cut a few (or many) slits to release the steam while it's cooking. 

5. Cover the crust in an egg wash - whisk an egg with a little bit of water and brush this over the crust. Bake in the oven at 375F until golden brown, approximately 45min - 1 hour. Let cool slightly before serving. 

Enjoy! And have a wonderful Christmas!

This post has been written as part of the Multicultural Kid Blogs 'Christmas In Different Lands' series. Each day of December up until the 25th a different blogger around the world will share a part of their family Christmas. Check back each day for seasonal inspiration, from crafts to recipes, family traditions and more!

Find our other French Canadian recipes here.

You can find more posts exploring culture, history and geography at All Things Beautiful 


  1. Reveillon sounds wonderful. All the candy and sweets and food, of course given my luck with cooking I'm sure I'd spoil making something.

    1. I could add one of Christmas traditions is to have trifle - made from whichever Christmas dessert we managed to ruin layered with whipped cream. Seriously - every. single. year.

  2. Looks lovely and sounds very tasty with all the spices.

    1. The spices do make this unique - they're also part of what makes everyone's recipe a little different.

  3. What beautiful traditions! I love your "blurry" memories of this as a sleepy child :) And the dishes look wonderful! It is interesting to compare this to Phoebe's post about Christmas in France - it sounds rather similar in terms of staying up late, even for the kids.

    1. It really was interesting to note the similarities and differences to Christmas in France.

  4. Le Réveillon sounds wonderful! I always learn so much about other cultures here. I love the rich detail and photos you share. Christmas log is my favourite Christmas dessert. I finished up the last slice of ours just now - yum. I still haven't made your sugar pie. Perhaps I will have to wait until the richness of all the Christmas food has gone down and then I will indulge in some in February!

    1. Thank you Lucinda! I think sugar pie in February sounds just perfect :)


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