When people think of when to visit New Orleans, Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest come to mind most immediately, but Christmas is a great time to visit our city. The weather is good, and you don’t have to battle crowds of people for a square foot of turf. There are lots of places to go and things to do here during the holidays, and today I’m going to focus on just one: Revillion.
Revillion is a New Orleans Christmas tradition that started sometime in the early 19th century when Catholics figured out a way to observe church-mandated fasting without starving themselves for 24 hours. Rather than going all day without food on Christmas eve until after mass on Christmas morning, New Orleans Creoles went to mass at midnight and at about two a.m., came back to a feast of monumental proportions. The meal had as many as twelve courses and featured local delicacies like turtle soup, oysters, beef daube, veal grillades, duck rather than turkey, and game pies, followed by a buche de Noel, a croquembuche, and cakes of every kind.
Revillion dinners were formerly held at home and required far more time and help than was feasible in the twentieth century, so the tradition had almost died out by the1950s. Then civic organizations began to encourage restaurants to revive the custom as a way to attract local diners during the Christmas lull. These days, there are two kinds of Revillion dinners–traditional and contemporary. The traditional ones no longer serve twelve courses, although Commander’s Palace, offers eight. Most restaurants serving Revillion dinners only have four courses, but I guarantee that you will not go home hungry. These days, both traditional and contemporary dinners feature more fish than was usual in the 1800s. At traditional Revillion dinners you can still find 19th century classics like turtle soup, baked oysters, a hearty meat course, (game in a few restaurants), and a buche de Noel for dessert. Contemporary dinners are lighter (relatively), serve modern dishes with traditional ingredients like escargot, and focus on fresh local ingredients. Deserving a special mention is Carmo which, true to its mission, has options for vegetarians, vegan, and omnivores. For more food than you can imagine, Revillion dinners start at around $45.00 up to $110.00 for the twelve courses at Commander’s Palace. For a comprehensive list of restaurants serving Revillion, complete with prices and menus, look here: https://holiday.neworleansonline.com/reveillon/
For a list of the top ten, look here: http://gonola.com/2016/11/08/top-reveillon-dinners.html
For a second opinion, check out Eater New Orleans. They have a listing of restaurants open Christmas day, including many serving a Revillion menu. You can see it here: http://nola.eater.com/maps/christmas-restaurants-open-new-orleans
You can no longer find a Revillion dinner that starts at 2:00 a.m., but there are plenty of opportunities for feasting at Christmastime. Eating is one of the things that we do best in New Orleans, so in that spirit, fulfill a tradition and eat like a local at Revillion.