Hôtel de Ville at Noël. Courtesy Steve Sampson.
I recall one memorable meal a number of years ago on Christmas Eve with my husband and children and another family and their two kids at Brasserie Flo. What a lovely night it was. The champagne and red wine was flowing. Nathalie’s daughter Justine convinced my son Max and my daughter to try escargot. Even though my kids were old hats at Christmas in Paris, Justine, who was a first timer, had a more sophisticated palate. They’ve loved escargot ever since. But the most memorable moment was surely when we witnessed the dyed blonde in front of us feed her Yorkie his Christmas meal from her plate—a happy little pup indeed and a quintessentially French moment.
Where to create your memories this year? There are numerous options even though the lion’s share of restos are closed, so reserving should be done sooner rather than later. You’ve got a better shot of finding a place open on Christmas Eve than Christmas Day, but try both. Foie gras, oysters, salmon, champagne, Christmas goose and Bûche de Noël (Yule log) all come to mind when I think of Christmas in Paris. Is there a better time of year to enjoy rich French food? Definitely not! An old-fashioned bistro in a stellar setting is always a good choice. The Flo bistros are good, as are independents such as Le Grand Colbert or Aux Lyonnais. Of course, the hotels do a nice job too: Le Cinq at the Four Seasons Hotel George V, the Meurice, the Ritz, the Crillon and the Plaza Athénée, with Alain Ducasse. You’ll feel like a queen and will have paid dearly for it, but, hey, how many times are you going to do Christmas in Paris?
Seafood is a tradition in a lot of cultures on Christmas Eve, so why not indulge in oysters or other crustaceans. Clotilde Dusoulier recommends l’Ecaille de la Fontaine for oysters. Le Dome (1, rue Delambre, in the 14th Arrondissement, off blvd Montparnasse; 01 43 35 13 12) always makes me happy for oysters and fish of any kind. Something more nouvelle might be interesting—say, Mon Vieil Ami on the Île St. Louis, which might be fun to do after a visit to Notre-Dame. Alexander Lobrano recommends a Parisian-filled bistro, Le Vaudeville. What about trying Gordon Ramsay’s place at Versailles for a very special evening?
Midnight mass happens at nearly all of the Catholic cathedrals, and after the midnight hour the réveillon feast is a tradition. Score yourself an invite to one or hold your own réveillon with a Bûche de Noël in your hotel room post-mass. Try to attend midnight mass in your neighborhood if you can stay awake. Any of the churches below should be holding one, with Notre-Dame being the most crowded. Or enjoy some of the music on Christmas Day at St. Eustache, the American Church in Paris, St. Julien le Pauvre, Sainte Chapelle or l’Église de la Madeleine. Look for the signs posted around town or in Periscope, and buy tickets at FNAC. The Christmas Eve we spent listening to “Ave Maria” and Vivaldi’s Four Seasons at St. Julien le Pauvre was truly one of the best Christmas Eve experiences we’ve ever had.
Looking for beautiful light displays? The Champs-Elysées is always covered in lights and has gorgeous decorated trees at the rond ponts. The big department-store windows and exteriors at Galeries Lafayette and Printemps are decorated for the season. Plus, a visit to Notre-Dame must be in the mix, to see the crèche inside as well as the beautiful tree outside. The Hôtel de Ville (town hall) is sparkling too, and they have ice skating in front.
After one Christmas Eve we spent at Julien, my husband and a friend took a walk back through the snowy cold night, all the way across Paris to the 6th, where our apartment was. They happened to arrive in front of Notre-Dame after midnight, and the crowds had gone. Certainly Notre-Dame at night and at peace was sheer magic.
May your Christmas holiday—wherever you spend it—be filled with magic, family and, most of all, peace. If you celebrate another holiday at this time of year, we hope yours is warm and wonderful.
Cathedrals for Midnight Mass
Place Ste.-Geneviève (behind the Panthéon), in the 5th.
1, rue des Prêtres St. Séverin, in the 5th.
Place St. Sulpice, in the 6th.
Place St. Germain, in the 6th.
Église Notre-Dame des Champs
92, blvd du Montparnasse, in the 14th.
19 bis, rue St.-Louis-en-l’Île, in the 4th, on the Île St. Louis.
Cathedral de Notre Dame de Paris
On the Île de la Cité.