Traditional Christmas Dinners Around the World Gallery
December 20, 2016
Wherever you are this Christmas, chances are you’re looking forward to a special dish at your holiday feast
Traditional Christmas Dinners Around the World
The holidays are a time for reflection, for stepping back and taking time to appreciate those closest to us. People show their appreciation in various ways, by sending cards and Christmas letters, giving a gift or two, or, at the most basic level, spending time with family and friends around a table of delicious foods.Wherever you are in the world, whether you celebrate on Christmas Day or Christmas Eve, chances are there’s a specific dish you’re looking forward to having at your holiday feast — one you rarely get to enjoy the rest of the year. Almost every country has at least one unique dish, beverage, or tabletop tradition that makes the holiday just a little special. For instance, Chile has its cola de mono — “tail of a monkey” — a drink with made with aguardiente (the local firewater) and coffee; Lithuania fills the Christmas table with not one but 12 special dishes; in France, the traditional holiday dinner features bûche de Noël as dessert.
Argentineans have their Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve. Roast suckling pig, mince pie, and vitel toné (sliced veal with creamy tuna-mayonnaise sauce) are a few dishes you’ll find served in the garden or barbecue-style when dining for Christmas (don’t forget that December is summer in the Southern Hemisphere).
Christmas in Australia means plenty of fresh seasonal summer foods. Salads, roast chicken, fresh-fruit-topped Pavlova… and of course an abundance of the freshest prawns around, whether tiger prawns, banana prawns, or king prawns. Traditionally, Christian Australians attend midnight Mass, then head to church on Christmas Day as well. Afterwards, there’s a midday dinner with families and friends that will be spent as either an outdoor barbecue or eating a traditional British Christmas dinner of roast turkey and plum pudding.
Christmas Eve is when families gather together for a big dinner. Roast turkey is common on the table, but other meats also appear. There’ll be vegetables, potatoes, and Chilean wine (usually red) as well. Chileans have a traditional holiday drink called cola de mono, “tail of the monkey.” Everyone has a personal recipe, but the base ingredients are almost always aguardiente, coffee, milk, and sugar. Another Chilean holiday tradition is a Christmas fruitcake called pan de Pascua. Curiously, Pascua is Spanish for “Easter,” but in Chile the term is used interchangeably with Navidad to mean “Christmas.”
At Christmastime here, you’ll find the traditional Colombian buñuelos, which are fried balls of queso fresco (fresh white cheese) and corn flour. You’ll also see a lot of natilla (a kind of custard) and hojuelas (flaky fried pastries flavored with orange juice or orange zest).
As in many other Latin American countries, Christmas Eve is the primary focus of Christmas dinner celebrations and family gatherings. The main meal on Noche Buena, as the Cubans call the occasion, will be a feast built around such basic dinner staples as black beans and rice, but on this special night, the meal can sometimes include a roasted pig with a side of fried plantains and rice pudding and rum cake for dessert.
In the Czech Republic many people fast the day of Christmas Eve, with only some golden, sweet Christmas bread as food during the day, saving up for the large evening dinner. This will usually begin with either fish soup or mushroom kuba (a sort of risotto made with barley), followed by a main course that typically consists of fried carp and potato salad.
Denmark’s Christmas dinner is now often built around roast duck and goose, but traditionally it consisted of roast pork. Red cabbage and gravy as well as boiled potatoes are traditional accompaniments, but a meal is not complete without dessert — ris à l’amande (cold rice pudding) or risengrød (hot rice pudding), served with whipped cream, almonds, vanilla, and hot cherry sauce. Both are made with a peeled almond hidden inside the serving bowl, and the person who finds it receives a present.
The Christmas Eve table for dinner in Finland might well be set with a rutabaga casserole, a beet salad, and the star, a baked ham. You may also find other casseroles, pâtés, and fish dishes at the dinner table — adding up to what is known in Finland as the Joulupöytä, or “Yule table.”
Christmas Eve dinner is called Le Réveillon in France. The meal typically includes a variety of items, including oysters, foie gras, a chestnut-stuffed roast turkey, and a variety of cheeses. The main dessert is often bûche de Noël, or Yule log. In Provence, the tradition is to have 13 desserts at the end of this Christmas feast to represent the 12 apostles and Jesus Christ. Don’t picture a table full of cakes and tartes, though: some pastries are included, but so are various dried and fresh fruits, candied citrus peel, and almonds and/or walnuts.
Germans enjoy a simple Christmas Eve dinner, followed by a much larger, multi-course dinner on Christmas Day. There is goose, duck, rabbit, and Krustenbraten (pork roast with a crispy rind), accompanied by such things as potato dumplings and sausage stuffing. The traditional Christmas dessert is a platter of the cookies called Weihnachtsplätzchen.
Different Hungarian provinces have different traditions, but many Christmas dinners in Hungary consist of a carp soup, stuffed cabbage, fried fish, and beigli, atraditional dessert pastry stuffed with either chestnuts or poppy seeds. The Christmas tree, usually decorated by the small children in the family, will have ornaments and szaloncukor — colorfully foil-wrapped chocolate candies — hanging from it.
The Icelandic Christmas dinner has changed over the centuries. In earlier times, a slaughtered lamb would be cooked in a meat broth called kjötsúpa, and ptarmigan, a game bird related to grouse, was eaten by poorer families. Now, ptarmigan is a popular dish among all Icelanders and is common at Christmas dinners along with ham and smoked lamb. Adding to this large meal are sides of beans, peas, gravy, and potatoes.
Catholic and other Christian communities in India celebrate the season with kuswar, Christmas sweets ranging from kidiyo (deep fried dough balls coated in icing sugar) to cookies and fruitcakes. Other sweet treats you’ll find around Christmas time include cardamom and cashew macaroons and gulab jamun, which are milk-solid balls soaked in syrup, with a consistency similar to that of doughnut holes. The main dinner will likely include biryani (a spices, meat, and rice dish) with lamb, mutton curry, and other common Indian dishes such as aloo gobi (spiced potato and cauliflower) and jeera pulao (cumin rice).
In southern Italy (as in many Italian-American households), the usual Christmas Eve meal is the “Feast of the Seven Fishes,” also called La Vigilia. The meal is traditionally made up of only fish or shellfish — seven varieties, as the name suggests — and vegetable dishes. Octopus, anchovies, salt cod, shellfish, and clams are among the common ingredients, but the most traditional ingredient is capitone (eel).
Jamaicans take pride in their cooking and enjoy making Christmas dishes to share with family and friends. Curry goat is the main dish at many Jamaican Christmas dinners, but roast beef, chicken stew, and curry chicken may also be at the table. Rice and peas is a common vegetable course, and rum punch is likely to be served.
Christmas Eve dinner in Lithuania traditionally includes 12 dishes, all meatless, including several herring dishes with carrots, beets, apples, or mushrooms. The table will also have sauerkraut and dumplings with various fillings. Kūčiukai are small poppy-seed biscuits made specifically for Christmas Eve, accompanied by poppy seed milk.
Christmas dinner in the Philippines is a sweet feast. Christmas ham is sweetened with honey, and crispy roasted pig has a caramelized skin. There is often Filipino sweet spaghetti, served in a sugar-sweetened tomato sauce. Other major dishes may include baked chicken stuffed with other meats and onions (rellenong manok) and ox tripe in peanut sauce (kare-kare).
Much like Lithuania, Poland has a 12-dish meal called the Wigilia Feast that is completely meatless. Traditionally, the meal was symbolic of the 12 apostles, but now the number of dishes can vary with the amount of guests expected for Christmas Eve dinner. Red borscht usually starts off the meal and is followed by other soups, carp, herring, and pierogi. For dessert there is a poppy seed cake, and a dried fruit compote beverage that is intended to ease digestion.
The Portuguese follow the Catholic tradition of fasting on Christmas Eve. The meal eaten for dinner to end the fast is called Consoada. Bacalhau, or salt cod, is a main staple of Christmas dinner in Portugal. Some regions of Portugal prefer to use polvo (octopus), either roasted or with rice. At the table will also be boiled eggs, boiled cabbage, and boiled sweet potatoes. As for desserts, the list is endless, with items such as biscoitos de natal (Christmas cookies) and leite de creme (an egg custard).
Christmas dinner in Romania is filled with many traditional dishes. Several pork specialties are made such as piftie, which is pork (usually the leg) in aspic, and pork stew. Romanians also serve homemade pickles and a traditional Romanian Christmas sweet bread known as cozonac, which can be made many ways with different fillings.
In Spain there is a large Christmas Eve dinner as well as a Christmas Day lunch. Seafood is traditional, but roast turkey is also popular. Spain’s traditional holiday sweets include turrón, or nougat, which can either be brittle or soft, and polvorones, which are a soft, crumbly shortbread cookies.
A Swedish Christmas smörgåsbord, or Julbord (Christmas table), is a buffet traditionally eaten in three courses. Among the foods on offer are pickled herring, lutefisk (lye-soaked salt cod), liver pâté, Christmas ham, and roast lamb, with sides of potatoes, cabbage, and beet salad, among others. For dessert, there is an assortment of cookies and a rice pudding similar to the Danish version that the Swedish call ris à lá malta.
Christmas dinner in the US varies from one household to the next, but often closely resembles the meal eaten on Thanksgiving. But the meal generally features ham or turkey with stuffing, vegetables, mashed potatoes, and gravy. Christmas cookies and pies — apple, pumpkin, pecan, mincemeat — are served for dessert and there’s often plenty of booze-spiked eggnog to wash it all down.