Acadian Christmas Traditions: Réveillon

Though white Christmases are rare here in the Pacific Northwest, they’re an annual event in French Canada.  As Québec’s great songwriter, Gilles Vigneault, once said: “Mon pays, ce n’est pas un pays, c’est l’hiver” (My country is not a country, it’s winter).  My father, Louis Léger, comes from the Acadian community of Moncton, New Brunswick, though he grew up in Québec.  He was raised Catholic and like many French-Canadians, he celebrated Christmas as a primarily religious holiday with distinct cultural elements like le réveillon de Noël (Christmas Awakening), the traditional meal served after Midnight Mass (la Messe de Minuit).

Now that I have children of my own to raise, I’d like to teach them about their heritage, so I asked my father to remember the Christmas réveillons of his past and to send me our family recipes for the dishes he used to enjoy at Christmas time.

Louis Léger (photo by Zoe Blank)

Mon père, Louis à Francis à Antoine Léger:

When I was a kid in Quebec, I would go to bed early and my parents would get me up around 11:00 PM, get me dressed and we’d go to church for the “Messe de Minuit”. This was usually a very fancy mass with organ music and choirs singing Christmas Carols. After mass we headed home for the Reveillon: it was mainly a large snack for those who had fasted for communion. I remember that it was mainly a slice of Tourtière with Ketchup. The “Pettes de Soeurs” were made with the leftover dough of the Tourtière. Depending on how sleepy kids were, we usually opened one present. We then went to bed and the next morning opened the rest of the presents and later that afternoon had the large meal with turkey, trimmings, and maybe a “Bûche de Noël”, although the Bûche was a luxury and usually bought at a pastry shop.

So if you’re tired of the usual fare this Christmas, try these Acadian delicacies:

La Tourtiere

Tourtière (Pork Pie)

Tourtière is a common dish throughout French Canada and even into the US.  It’s based on old medeival French cooking traditions, like boiling the pork in milk and adding cinnamon and cloves as aromatic spices.  It’s always served in our family with la sauce special: ketchup.

Makes one pie, 6-8 servings

Pie Crust: for a two crust pie (top and bottom)
2 cups flour
1/2 cup shortening
Dash of salt
Ice water
Cut in pastry and shortening then slowly add enough water to make a ball. Divide into two balls and refrigerate for at least an hour

Filling :

1 1/2 lb. Lean pork shoulder, minced 2x fine
1 onion minced and cooked in water
1 clove garlic, mashed
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup water
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Salt and pepper to taste

-Combine ingredients and cook for 35 minutes uncovered.

-Drain and cool

-Bake in pie shell (pierce a few holes in top crust) at 450 F for 15 minutes, then 350 for 10 minutes

-Serve warm with special sauce (Ketchup)

Les Pettes des Soeurs (Nuns' Farts)

Les Pettes de Soeur (Nuns’ Farts)

Never ones to pass up a chance for a dig at the clergy, Nun’s Farts are a popular dessert for French Canadians.  Try not to think about their name too much while eating.


Usually made from the leftover dough of the Tourtière.

Roll the dough into a long thin rectangular piece.

Spread a thin layer of butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, and molasses

Roll into a log like a jelly roll and then slice the log in thin sections

Place each section in a muffin tin and bake for 20-25 at 350F or until done. You can leave out the molasses or use maple syrup instead.

La Famille Leger

In a strange coincidence, our family band performs a fiddle tune called “La Petteuse” (The Flatulent Lady).  Check out this video of our performance at Folklife and listen for les pettes!

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