Traditional Christmas Foods Around the World
The Christmas holiday is filled with traditions, from decorating the house and Christmas tree in festive and cozy cheer to leaving cookies and milk out for Santa, there’s so many things we look forward to each year to complete the Christmas holiday.
One thing many of us look forward to around the holidays are the feasts, goodies, and treats that abound in celebration of Christmas and the season of giving.
In the many countries, there is generally a feast either on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day that plays a significant role in the entire celebration. It is a time for families, friends and other loved ones to come together and feast on delicious food.
As many varieties of traditions that exist are the varieties of feasts and cooking traditions alike. This year, Independence Bunting takes a look at what other people around the world eat or do with their food to celebrate the holiday.
Because Mexico is a largely religious, Catholic country, Christmas is a huge holiday with food playing a central role in the festivities. Noche Buena, or Christmas Eve is host to a late-night family dinner.
Many people in the southwestern states are familiar with tamales, and eagerly await their abundance during the Christmas season. While much of the general public may receive their tamales as gifts from others or even purchase them from vendors or at the store, for those connected with their Mexican heritage it’s a tradition steeped in love and family. Making them from scratch involves intensive labor, and families participate in tamaladas, or tamal-making parties (tamales being the plural form), to make dozens upon dozens for the holiday season.
In addition to tamales, there is also ensalada de Noche Buena, which is a salad that includes beets, lettuce, jicama, oranges, apples, red onions, and peanuts. Over the years, the recipe has varied greatly depending on different families.
Bacalao is another dish enjoyed. This dried, salted codfish hails from European influence, but is often enjoyed as a popular dish called Bacalao a la Vizcaina, in which it’s stewed with tomatoes, potatoes, capers, and olives.
Pozole is another familiar favorite throughout the southwestern U.S. that can be found at many a Christmas celebration throughout Mexico. This soup features hominy, pork or chicken, chile, and garlic, accommodated by shredded lettuce, radishes, lime, onions, and avocado.
Buñuelos are a fried, crispy sweet served best with a hot drink like atol. Atol or atole is a drink derived from cornmeal, and has many variations which can include fruity, nutty, or spicy flavors, some added with milk for a richer consistency.
In Norway, there are plenty of julebord (Christmas parties) for everyone to attend! Norway is another country that heavily celebrates on juleaften, Christmas Eve. A feast precedes their evening church attendance, and often includes lamb and pork in the North and Western regions, and lutefisk and cod in the Southern areas. Juleøl is the seasonal beer, which are often darker and spicier. Julbrus is a sweet soda that can be enjoyed by children and others who don’t drink alcohol. Goro, berlinekrans, and pepperkake -- aka, gingerbread -- are delicious cookies shared during the holiday season.
Depending on the family and their customs, some choose to celebrate with big feasts on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, while others have their main one on just one of those days.
In France and other French-influenced places like Belgium, Portugal, Romania, and Canada for example, there is a feast called Réveillon, which roughly translates to ‘the waking’ in reference to the long night spent awake for the feast.
Foie gras is a popular apératif before French holiday dinners, often served as a paté over warm toast with fig, onions, or confit, which is meat that has been cooked and preserved in its own fat. Others prefer to serve it sliced with meat, or even as a sauce. Foie gras can also be pan-roasted if fresh.
Fresh oysters, smoked salmon, scallops, and escargot are other popular appetizers enjoyed at French Christmas dinners.
The main course is often turkey, often prepared with chestnut stuffing. Other options include pheasant, goose, quail, venison, or boar.
The bûche de Noël is a popular dessert, but might be more familiar to you as the ‘Yule log.’ Though chocolate is popular, anything can be used to fill the Yule log. Some embellish the outside with grooves in the frosting to look like a log, or add figurines or other decor to make it more festive.
While Christmas is a cozy time of year for many of us in the Northern Hemisphere, Australians often take their festivities outside for -- what else? -- a barbeque to celebrate the season. Christmas occurs during the Southern Hemisphere’s summer time, which means many people may go to the beach or even camping this time of year.
Barbeques are popular get togethers, which are similar to barbeques in the U.S., with meats, seafood, and salads. Desserts are often remnants of British influence, with plum puddings, fruit mince pies, and trifle. Pavlova is another popular treat, a meringue with a crispy crust and a soft filling. Fruit like kiwis, strawberries, and passionfruit adorn the top of the pavlova.
While in the United States we are often upset to see Christmas decor prior to Halloween, the Philippines welcomes the Christmas season with open arms as early as September, and extends it until January 6th, which is “The Feast of the Three Kings”. The ‘ber months (i.e., September, October, November, December) are filled with all things Christmas: merchandise in the store, decor and lights and home and throughout, and the Filipino parol.
The parol is a colorful, star-shaped lantern, traditionally made from bamboo sticks and capiz shells. Families often made their own from bamboo sticks and colored cellophane or tissue paper, and hang them in their windows.
In older times, Filipinos celebrated Misa de Gallo, which is a series of masses that took place in the early hours of the morning between December 14 - December 24. The name literally translates to “Rooster’s Mass” because they often occurred before the rooster’s morning crow. In modern times, this series of masses typically occurs in the evening, with the name Simbang Gabi, or ‘church at night’.Many Filipino communities in the United States have brought over this Simbang Gabi tradition to their churches.
Food of course, is often served after mass. Rice-based foods or treats are a tradition to eat after the Simbang Gabi. Arroz caldo is a hot soup made with rice and chicken. Popular sweets include puto bumbong, which is made from ground purple glutinous rice wrapped in bamboo and cooked in a steamer. When done, it is placed on banana leaves and spread with butter; grated coconut and sugar, or a mixture thereof, are also served with it on the banana leaves.
Bibingka is another tasty treat, which is like a cake, but made with galapong -- rice soaked in water, then ground with water to form a dough. It’s baked in a special clay pot surrounded with burning coals. Salted egg and white cheese are added for garnish.
Similar to Mexico, the Philippines has their Noche Buena, likely an influence from the Spanish histories of each country. The Noche Buena in the Philippines is the grand family dinner served right after evening mass on Christmas Eve. The feast includes ham, lechon (a whole, roasted pig), roast chicken, pancit (noodles), lumpia (eggrolls), and caldereta (beef stew). Other staples during the Christmas season include castañas, which are roasted chestnuts, and pan de sal, essentially a Filipino dinner roll.
These are just a few of the traditions you can find around the world at Christmas time. If you find yourself traveling during the holidays, find a place to try some of the traditional feasts and see how the rest of the world celebrates the holiday. Don't forget to find some traditional Christmas decorations from Independence Bunting.