On Christmas, many Americans will pile into the car and head off to Grandma’s or Aunt Susie’s for Christmas dinner, which will most likely involve some expected dishes: ham, turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, gingerbread cookies, and the usual cast of characters. But as you might expect, these dishes aren’t the norm on Christmas tables all around the world.
In Germany, no Christmas is complete without stollen, a fruitcake with candied and dried fruits, nuts, and spices topped with confectioners’ sugar. Other popular German Christmas treats are lebkuchen, which is similar to gingerbread; springerle, an embossed biscuit; and weihnachtsplätzchen, or assorted Christmas cookies. Main dishes can include carp, roast goose, venison, weisswurst, and schäufele (corned roast ham) with potato salad on the side. To wash it all down, there’s feuerzangenbowle (hot mulled wine with flaming sugar melted into it) and glühwein, or hot spiced wine.
Each region of Italy eats different foods on Christmas Day, but the traditional Christmas Eve dinner is the Feast of the Seven Fishes, which typically consists of seven seafood dishes, symbolic of the number seven, which is the most repeated number in the bible. Popular dishes include baccala (salt cod), baked cod, fried calamari, fried fish or shrimp, linguine with clam or lobster sauce, octopus salad, shrimp cocktail, and stuffed calamari in tomato sauce. For dessert, high-risen sweet yeast breads including panettone and pandoro are popular.
Christmas dinner is an opulent one in France, where oysters, foie gras, chestnut-stuffed turkey, roast chicken, smoked salmon, and goose aren’t uncommon finds on Christmas dinner tables. The bûche de Noël (or yule log) is a popular dessert, and in Provence 13 desserts, representing Jesus and the 12 apostles, are served.
In many Nordic countries, Christmas dinner is served smörgåsbord-style, and in Sweden it’s called the Julbord, where guests help themselves to a wide array of dishes. These can include Swedish meatballs, ham, sausages (prinskorv, flaskkorv, and isterband), spare ribs, pickled herring, gravlax, rye bread with orange peel, cheeses, cabbage, and beets. Lutefisk (white fish treated with lye) is also common, along with plenty of mulled wine (glogg), and Julgröt (rice pudding with an almond hidden inside) for dessert.
In Poland, Christmas Eve is a meat-free day, and 12 dishes are usually served for dinner, representing the 12 apostles. These dishes usually include barszcz (borscht) with uszka (filled dumplings), carp with potato salad, pickled herring, rollmops, pierogi, mushroom soup, cabbage rolls, potato dumplings, and salads.
Traditional Christmas dishes in Norway include Julepølse (pork sausage with ginger, cloves, nutmeg, and mustard seed), lutefisk, Pinnekjøtt (salted, fried, and steamed lamb’s ribs), svineribbe (whole-roasted skin-on pork ribs), and sossier (small sausages). Sweet and sour red cabbage is served on the side, and it’s washed down with juleøl (Christmas beer) or julebrus, a non-alcoholic Christmas soft drink brewed by most Norwegian breweries.
Ham, turkey, mince pies, and Christmas pudding are popular Christmas dishes in New Zealand, along with lots of sausages and a dessert called pavlova, which is meringue-based with a light inside and a crisp crust, usually topped with pomegranate seeds and Chantilly cream for Christmas.
Don’t forget that Christmas falls in the middle of summer south of the equator, so in South Africa it’s not uncommon to find people preparing their Christmas dinner on the grill. For many, however, Christmas involves turkey or duck, roast beef, mince pies, or suckling pig with yellow rice and vegetables. A sweet and spongy cake called malva pudding is also popular.
Lechon, or whole roast suckling pig, is a common centerpiece of a Filipino Christmas table, along with ham, queso de bola (edam cheese), pancit (a noodle dish with meat and vegetables), a type of chorizo called morcon, a stew-like beef dish called machado, and a goat stew called kaldereta. Desserts include puto bumbong (sweet purple rice with sugar and coconut) and bibingka (a layered dessert made with rice flour, sugar, butter, and coconut milk).