Christmas is the worldwide celebration of the birth of Christ that embraces both global traditions and traditions unique to each country that celebrates it. But no matter where one celebrates this holiday, Christmas dinner is an integral part of the festivities. Most countries follow a similar pattern: a special feast that has a multitude of different dishes and desserts, along with special sweets and delicacies served only at this time of year.
In the UK, Christmas dinner is eaten in the afternoon of the 25th of December. The meal generally consists of turkey or goose served with stuffing, roast potatoes, vegetables, including parsnips and Brussel sprouts, pigs in blankets (a small sausage wrapped in bacon) and a series of sauces such as gravy, cranberry sauce and bread sauce.
Dessert is generally Christmas pudding, a steamed spiced fruit pudding (some have a small coin baked inside), which is doused with burning alcohol before being served with brandy butter and/or cream. Whoever finds the coin in his or her portion will have good luck the coming year. And, of course, we mustn’t forget, a late-afternoon cup of tea with a mince pie!
Germany is a country with very strong Christmas roots; after all the Christmas Tree (tannenbaum) originated in Germany! The Christmas Eve dinner menu is traditionally comprised of succulent meats such as roasted pork and sausage, macaroni salad, “reisbrei” (a sweet rice pudding with raisins and cinnamon), and many regional dishes.
Feasting continues into Christmas Day with roasted goose, “Christstollen” (long loaves of bread stuffed with nuts, raisins, lemon zest and dried fruit and dusted in confectioner’s sugar), “Lebkuchen” (gingerbread), marzipan, and “Dresden Stollen,” a moist, heavy bread filled with fruit.
Christmas dinner in France is generally a traditional affair, starting with an aperitif: a glass of sparkling wine or champagne served with “amuse bouche” – bite-sized puff-pastry delights filled with cheese, ham or other delicacies. The starter is usually one of French cuisine’s most renowned dishes: foie gras. This rich duck liver pâté is generally served with toast and a sweet onion or fig confit. Another French favourite to eat at Christmas are oysters.
The main course is traditionally a roasted meat dish such as stuffed “chapon” (capon), “dinde” (turkey), “pintade” (guinea fowl) or “faisan” (pheasant) with winter vegetables. Following this, of course, comes a cheese platter and for dessert, a Bûche de Noël, a traditional frosted Yule Log decorated with Christmas characters.
Christmas is a very important holiday in Italy, who celebrate religious traditions together with family and the wider community. The main Christmas meal, “il Cenone della Vigilia”, is eaten late on Christmas Eve after attending “La Vigilia” (an evening mass). This meal generally consists of a “primo” (first course) of pasta, followed by a “secondo” (second course) of eel. On Christmas day, traditions vary depending on the region but, again, typically consist of a pasta “primo” and a meat “secondo”, with stuffed poultry in Northern Italy and roasted lamb in Southern Italy.
Desserts also vary depending on the region, however some common favourites are “panettone” a soft, sweet bread loaf filled with candied fruits, raisins, nuts or chocolate, and “torrone” a traditional nougat made from honey, sugar and egg whites and filled with roasted nuts. Another popular Christmas cake is the “Pandoro” which is an unfilled panettone dusted with confectioners’ sugar and served with a sparkling wine.
Christmas in Sweden is a very important holiday, and they know how to put on a feast! A buffet, called a “Julbord,” or literally, “the Christmas Table,” is set up for lunch on Christmas Eve. Cold fish is always an important staple on the julbord. Often there is herring, gravlax (salmon cured in sugar, salt and dill) and smoked salmon. Other foods might include roast beef, cold turkey, pork chops, meatballs and of course ‘julskinka’ (a Christmas ham).
Cabbage and potatoes always show up on the dinner table. A popular potato dish is “Janssons Frestelse”, which is julienned potatoes layered with anchovies, onions and cream and baked until golden brown, and delicious. There’s also “dopp i grytan” which is bread dipped in the leftover ham broth. In fact, this is so popular that Christmas Eve is nicknamed “dopparedagen” or “dipping day.”
Asia does not have many overtly Christian countries with the exception of the Philippines. The population of the Philippines is over 80% Catholic, a result of Spanish colonialism. Therefore, a lot the Christmas traditions of the Filipino’s are similar to those of Portugal, Spain, and Latin America.
“Noche Buena” is the name of the festivities beginning on Christmas Eve, but more specifically it is the midnight feast served after Catholic Mass. It includes lechon (roasted pig), queso de bola (cheese ball) hamon (ham), pan de sal (a bread roll), fruit salad and fruitcake, rice cakes (bibingka and puto bumbong), pasta dishes, seafood, paella and hot chocolate.
Another country that celebrates Noche Buena is Mexico. Mexicans start celebrating in mid-December with “Posados,” which literally means “inn” in Spanish. This is a series of processions of both children and adults, trying to find “room at the inn.” Each night of the procession they will ultimately end up at the appointed house that will invite them in and have a giant fiesta. There will be lots of food, fireworks and piñatas.
The final posada is Noche Buena on Christmas Eve. After midnight mass, families will gather together and feast on roast turkey, tamales, pozole (a thick soup made with hominy, chicken or pork and chilies), romeritos (a green vegetable that’s cooked in a mole sauce with potatoes and shrimp), bacalao (salt cod), and various salads and side dishes. For dessert, bunuelos are always a very popular choice. They are delicious fried pastries that are sprinkled with copious amounts of sugar and cinnamon.
Because Mexicans celebrate Christmas into January, they also have a special cake called “Rosca de Reyes,” (Three Kings Cake), symbolising the arrival of the Three Wise Men. This happens on 6th January, also known as Epiphany Day.
Australia is a great place to relax and enjoy a festive meal. While many Australian Christmas traditions are similar to the UK’s, there are some differences. The most notable is that Christmas takes place at the height of summer! There are no snowy mountains or snowmen or sledding. Instead, after an early morning church service, many Australians head to the beach or go camping! So, food that is suitable for a picnic or a barbecue is very popular.
Australian Christmas dinner might be traditional with a roast turkey or goose, ham and roasted vegetables, but a lot people will also eat cold deli meats and sandwiches, seafood, cold chicken, pasta salads and fruit salad. There are many different desserts, one of the most popular being pavlova, which is a large soft meringue topped with whipped cream and delectable fresh fruit. Of course, being summer, ice cream is a must for Christmas in Australia!