The Untold Truth Of Reveillon, The Over-The-Top New Orleans Holiday Feast

In France, a country where at least 60 percent of the population identifies as Catholic according to Europe Now, even the majority who may be a little irregular in their attendance at Sunday services will often come out for midnight mass. And, as 100 percent of the country's population are serious foodies, naturally la messe de minuit is followed by a sumptuous meal called le Réveillon, which translates to "the awakening." Which kind of implies that you've fallen asleep during mass – tsk tsk – but still, a luxurious meal of escargots, oysters, roast pheasant, and foie gras followed by bûche de Noël and washed down with Champagne is a pretty nice way to wake up from a long winter's nap.

In fact, Complete France says that a single Réveillon is not sufficient to make la saison des fêtes sufficiently joyeuse – instead, they celebrate le Réveillon de Noël on Christmas Eve (or rather, early Christmas morning) and on New Year's Eve they partake in le Réveillon de la Saint Sylvestre. Can't make it to France this year? That's ok. Nineteenth-century French immigrants brought this tradition to that French-est of U.S. cities, New Orleans. Visit New Orleans notes that the early, midnight mass-based tradition seemed to have died out by the WWII era, it was revived in the 1990s in a more secular version.

What a modern-day Crescent City Réveillon looks like

Today's Réveillon celebrations no longer take place during the wee hours, something which should be reassuring to non-night owls. Nor are they held solely on December the 24th – and, needless to say, mass attendance is entirely optional, as well. Instead, you can celebrate Réveillon at any time after Thanksgiving is over right up through Christmas Eve (Saint Sylvestre evidently missed the boat from France, so no New Year's feasting) and your meal will most likely take place during more conventional dining times. The latter shift may have been prompted by the fact that Réveillon feasts are most apt to be held in restaurants these days, and the high-end eateries offering them don't typically keep Waffle House hours.

Some of the restaurants that feature special Réveillon menus include the legendary Commander's Palace, launching pad of chefs Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse; Antoine's, home of oysters Rockefeller, Broussard's, Dickie Brennan's, Galatoire's, and other iconic eateries.

Réveillon menus are varied and complex

Every restaurant puts its own spin on the Réveillon feast, but most menus seem to consist of four courses (plus, perhaps, a little lagniappe such as the glass of ruby port offered by Cafe Degas). For the most part, the first two courses seem to consist of a choice of appetizers, fish, salads, and/or soups, while the third course is a main dish accompanied by vegetable sides and the third course consists of appropriately festive desserts.

You may peruse each menu from every New Orleans restaurant offering a Réveillon meal if you scroll to the bottom of the city's official tourism website. As an amuse-bouche, however, we present what Commander's Palace is offering: a soup made of oysters and absinthe (guaranteed to make the heart – and other parts – grow fonder), beignets made of blue crab and topped with "Cajun caviar," and a choice of citrus-crusted redfish and Bordeaux-braised beef short ribs accompanied by such veggie delights as lemon-roasted artichokes and black truffle-bedecked potato puree (one does not simply "mash" such superior spuds). And for dessert – be still, our hearts! – there's ginger-spiced Christmas pudding, fall-spiced (since it's never truly winter in the deep South) white chocolate ganache with tart cranberry coulis, house-made toffee, and Cajun eggnog. At $90 per plate, for most of us, such a meal will have to remain a sweet, if unattainable, dream...but it sure beats visions of sugarplums for a holiday food fantasy.