Christmas Dinner: 9 Different Christmas Meal Traditions From Around The World

Illustration Christmas is a holiday built around tradition. From the very beginning, Christmas has been dedicated to family and giving, oh, and of course food! Wondrous, glorious, break out the eatin' pants food. But have you ever wondered what Christmas...

Illustration
Illustration

Christmas is a holiday built around tradition. From the very beginning, Christmas has been dedicated to family and giving, oh, and of course food! Wondrous, glorious, break out the eatin' pants food. But have you ever wondered what Christmas food they eat in different cultures? Well, wonder no more.

Here's a list of some of the most interesting dinners people eat around the world. Read on to learn about Christmas dinner traditions in Australia, Czech Republic, Peru, Northern Europe, Zimbabwe, France, Fiji, Poland and Italy.

Christmas in Australia

Do the Australians have Christmas down under? You bet they do. In fact, a family living in the capital city of Canberra recently broke the Guinness Book of World Records for the most Christmas lights on a single house: an incredible awe-inspiring 502,165 Christmas lights. That's one expensive electric bill! Want to know more about Christmas in the land Down Under? A place where Santa often arrives in shorts and on a surfboard. Read on!

Flaming Plum Pudding
Flaming Plum Pudding

Even though the temperature during an Australian Christmas can reach near 100 degrees Fahrenheit, those Aussies aren't deterred in baking up their favourite meal. While a traditional main course does often consist of the same sort of meats as in North America, they have also deviated to regional cuisine. So you're just as likely to find Australian families grilling shrimp or prawns on the beach for Christmas, just the same as it would be to see a turkey in the oven.

Wassail
Wassail

A Christmas tree is a symbol of the season, and while Australians do put up the festive conifer, they also decorate with what they call a "Christmas Bush," a small, green tree with cream colored flowers. Speaking of cream, want to know how they eat dessert? They set it on fire! It's  called flaming plum pudding, for those interested. (Click here for the recipe). They also enjoy mincemeat pie, a food that, quite understandably, just never caught on in the States.

When the evening is winding down, and the temperatures are still near 100, it's time to break out the cold drinks, which is not much different than the American tradition. However, Australians are pretty crafty given that winter means very little there, so they have taken to mixing beers and other cold drinks in with their harder alcohols. For example, ginger beer and pineapple Schnapps; sparkling wine and fruit punch; and the more traditional hot cider that they call "Wassail" that they also drink at New Year's.

Christmas in Czech Republic

Christmas in Czech Republic begins on December 6 with the visit of St. Nicholas, or Svaty Mikulas as he is known there, and doesn't end until Christmas Eve (or Št?drý den). Traditionally, Czechs wait until sunset to dine on their nine course Christmas dinner which includes soup, bread or wafers with honey, fish, potato salad, fruit, and dessert.

Christmas Bread - Vanocka
Christmas Bread - Vanocka

Dinner around the table is typically started with traditional Christmas bread known as váno?ka (similar to challa, Jewish braided flatbread served on holidays, click here for recipe), and is accompanied by Christmas fish soup called Váno?ní rybí polévka or pea soup. For Czechs Christmas dinner should be the first meal eaten for the day.

For the main course you will find fried fish (usually carp) and potato salad, of which the recipe differs for each family, but typically consists of “potatoes, peas, onions, cooked carrots, corn, parsley and celery, pickled gherkins, cheese, cooked eggs and mayonnaise.” Some families will add salami or sometimes even apple to their potato salad. It is often prepared the day before dinner so that it has time to “mellow,” giving it the best taste.

For dessert, Czechs enjoy a variety of baked goods, from baked apple strudel to fruitcake to gingerbread. While the children (and adults too) snack on Christmas cookies known as (váno?ní cukroví) for the rest of the day. The cookies are sometimes exchanged as gifts and even between neighbors.

Potato Salad
Potato Salad

Christmas in Peru

Christmas in Peru is a very well loved time of the year for all. Most Peruvians are Roman Catholics so you can pretty much understand why Christmas is such an important holiday for them. However in Peru, some of the customs are celebrated differently then they are in North America and Europe. That being said, Christmas in Peru definitely offers some unique traditions and makes it the perfect destination to spend the Christmas holiday.

 Peruvian Christmas Traditions

In North America, Europe, and some South American countries, Christmas is celebrated on December 25th, but in Peru they do the majority of their Christmas celebrating the night before. North Americans would call that day Christmas Eve, but in Peru it is known as Noche Buena, which means Good Night. During Noche Buena, religion is the key factor of the night with the misa de gallo or the Rooster Mass that begins at 10 pm. In the United States, we have a Midnight Mass. However in Peru, families return home at midnight for a champagne toast to the birth of Baby Jesus and to start their Christmas festivities with a roast turkey dinner and to exchange and open presents with one another.

Christmas Foods of Peru

A traditional Christmas dinner usually consists of a roast turkey dinner with many salads and side dishes. Apple Sauce is amongst their favorite holiday side dish. Commonly, hot tamales would be served. Children would enjoy hot chocolate with cinnamon and cloves. Paneton, a Peruvian fruit cake is usually served for dessert. When dinner and dessert is complete, people would gather in the streets to chat with neighbors and watch fireworks. After the children are asleep the adults begin to dance into the early morning hours. This is why Christmas Day is usually fairly quiet for them, as they are resting the entire day.

Chocolate
Chocolate

Peruvian Hot Chocolate

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups water
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2-3 cloves
  • 1 oz. square of unsweetened chocolate
  • 1 can evaporated milk
  • 1 Tbsp. of oatmeal
  • sugar to taste

Directions:

  1. Bring water, cinnamon stick, cloves and chocolate square to a boil.
  2. Once boiled, lower heat and add evaporated milk and oatmeal. Stir continuously for 5 minutes or until the oatmeal is cooked through. DO NOT OVER BOIL!
  3. Add sugar to taste and more milk if necessary.

Peruvian Paneton

Paneton
Paneton

Ingredients:

  • 1 ½ cup lukewarm water
  • 1 ½ Tablespoon granulated yeast
  • 1 ½ Tablespoon salt½ Cup honey
  • 8 eggs lightly beaten
  • 1 Cup (2 sticks) melted, slightly cooled unsalted butter
  • ½ tsp. fiori di sicilia (Italian citrus and vanilla extract blend)
  • 2 tsp. orange zest
  • 7 ½ Cups flour
  • 2 Cups mixed dried fruit
  • Egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1 Tablespoon water)
  • Sugar for sprinkling on top of the loaf

Directions:

  1. Mix the water, yeast, salt, honey, eggs, butter, extract, and orange zest. Add in the flour and dried fruit and mix.
  2. Cover and let rest at room temperature to allow the dough to rise for about 2 hours.
  3. Put the dough in the refrigerator and let it sit for an additional 24 hours.
  4. The next day, grease the panettone molds with butter.
  5. Dust the dough with flour and cut into thirds.
  6. Roll each piece into a ball, dusting with flour if necessary.
  7. Place each piece into a panettone mold and loosely cover with plastic wrap, allowing to rest at room temperature for about 1 hour and 30 minutes.
  8. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  9. Remove the plastic wrap and brush the top of the panettone with egg wash, then sprinkle with sugar.
  10. Place the panettone on the middle rack of the oven and allow to cook for about 50-55 minutes or until the top is golden brown and hollow sounding when tapped.
  11. Cool before slicing.

Christmas in Northern Europe

How they celebrate Christmas in Northern Europe is quite similar to the rest of the world in regards to gatherings and events. Aside from calling it Jul (Yule) in most countries, and mainly celebrating it on Dec 24, the biggest difference is the food they eat. Here's a menu sampling from a few countries in Northern Europe.

Denmark: Most of Denmark celebrates Christmas in the evening, so they call it Juleaften (literally "Yule evening"). For the main course they eat pork roast, duck, goose, potatoes and gravy. Accompanied by cabbage and kale boiled in a butter sauce. For dessert they serve rice pudding made up of whipped cream and black cherry sauce. Click here for the rice pudding recipe.

Danish Rice Pudding
Danish Rice Pudding

Estonia: In Estonia Christmas is called jõulud and Estonians celebrate with eating a good meal on the night of Dec 24. On the menu is pork and sauerkraut (traditional Estonian sauerkraut called mulgikapsad), potatoes and blood sausage, as well as beets and p?té. For dessert they eat gingerbread cookies and marzipan cheese, and drink beer and mulled wine called glögi.

Finland: The Finns take Christmas very serious by extensively decorating and celebrating for weeks in advance. For Christmas dinner or joulupöytä, most families serve a traditional Christmas ham (much like how turkey is served in North America), or sometimes roast suckling pig.

Suckling Pig
Suckling Pig

They also cook up several different casseroles, boiled codfish, pickled herring, and tons of vegetables. Their desserts are typically jam pastries, rice porridge, cakes, sweets for the kids and chocolate.

Norway: A Norwegian Christmas dinner is eaten the night of Dec 24, much like most of Northern Europe. It is a big meal that most usually features pork rib, pinnekjøtt (which is bits of lamb rib steamed over birch branches). A lot of families still eat the traditional Norwegian meal of fresh, poached cod or "lutefisk." For dessert, a popular choice is rice pudding or rice porridge.

Christmas in Zimbabwe

Christmas in Zimbabwe, as well as many countries around Africa, is a day of worship, singing Christmas carols, gift-giving, families and food. They don't, however, celebrate the popular African-American holiday called Kwanzaa. It is specific to North America where it was invented.

Cornmeal Porridge
Cornmeal Porridge

Since Zimbabwe is located south of the Equator it is summer there, so a white Christmas will never be a possibility. But it doesn't stop Zimbabweans from getting into the spirit. The week of Christmas they begin to gather breads, teas, and various jams for Christmas dinner, and the children begin to speak excitedly about the arrival of Santa.

On Christmas Eve some families in Zimbabwe place a more European style fir tree in the living area of their home, while others simply decorate with ivy. The families with trees decorate them with mostly handmade ornaments and then gifts are placed beneath it. Then, an elder is selected to "play Santa" for the gift-giving ceremony.

Dinner is usually eaten at a designated family or village members home and is typically prepared by the women, who take turns in its preparation. The meals are most often ox or goat, porridges made from cornmeal, rice, and all of the foods collected and saved from earlier in the week. At dinner, the meal is served at a huge table.

After dinner, the adults will relax and have conversation, while the children will play games and wait for the elder to play "Santa." In some smaller, poorer communities gifts are handmade, while in more populous areas of Zimbabwe gifts are purchased from stores.

Once the sun goes down, Christmas is officially over, and the 365-day countdown begins again.

Yule Log
Yule Log

Christmas in France: Joyeux Noël!

Christmas in France is a time of the year punctuated by family, gatherings, generosity, gifts and candy for the children. The French spend the entire day with friends and family then attend Midnight Mass after which they have a late dinner called le Réveillon (a long dinner), a tradition that is shared by some North American cities with a rich, French heritage, such as New Orleans and Quebec.

For Christmas dinner the French people out due themselves with variety and extravagance. The list of foods prepared and shared is extensive and elegant. Most notably, however, are their main courses and their desserts, something French cooking is very well known for. Dinner often includes, foie gras, roast

Foie Gras
Foie Gras

chicken, and smoked ham. For dessert, they whip up such delectable treats as La bûche de Noël (Yule log), La Galette des Rois (on Epiphany, recipe), quince cheese, nougat blanc and nougat noir au miel, and crepes with berries.

For le Réveillon, which happens early Christmas Day, hence the translation of réveillon which means "waking," the people of France celebrate with only the best foods. Though the menus vary from each region, typical menus will have chestnut-stuffed turkey (dinde aux marrons), goose, chicken, capon, and a host of fabulous desserts. In fact, in the region known as Provence, the people there serve what they call Thirteen Desserts (lei tretze dessèrts). And while some of the items aren't the most elaborate or the sweetest, that doesn't detract from the fact that there are thirteen from which to choose.

Christmas in Fiji

Christmas in Fiji is slightly different than in other countries where Christmas is celebrated. There, Christmas is more about family and gatherings rather than decorations or extravagance. The fijians celebrate quite simply by lighting a ceremonial lamp and a tree decorated with ribbons and candles. But they know how to eat.

The people in Fiji cook with a stone oven known as a "lovo." Every household has one immediately outside their home that they use for most of their cooking. And on December 24 and 25 Fijians lovos see a lot of use.

For dinner they cook a combination of chicken filled with garlic and spice, pork roast, beef, fish; Dalo, a type of tuber also known as Taro; and cassava, a slightly sweeter tuber more commonly called yuca. They also traditionally prepare "palusami," a Samoan main dish usually filled with spiced mutton, wrapped in Dalo leaves and blended in coconut milk. A special drink is also served up for the holidays.

Palusami ( Image by  G!ni posted at myfijifriends.com)
Palusami ( Image by G!ni posted at myfijifriends.com)

We may have eggnog as our Christmas drink here in North America, but in Fiji they have kava-kava. The Kava plant's leaves produce an intoxicating effect when consumed.

Kava-Kava
Kava-Kava

The drink is made by drying and pounding the leaves into a fine powder and then blended in water. The Fijians call this drink grog, and typically imbibe it out of coconut shells rather than cups. And though the practice was not just done around the holidays, it has now become a part of Christmas tradition.

Thinking of taking a vacation this Christmas? Then think of going to Fiji. It is popular to organize beach parties for Christmas that carry on into the new year. What a dream...

Christmas in Poland : Weso?ych ?wi?t!

Polish Christmas is a hugely celebrated event across the country. Because Poland is largely Roman Catholic, their official advent begins on Dec 6, where they start the season by baking Christmas piernik (gingerbread), cutting them into various shapes, and making decorations that will adorn their homes and Christmas trees. Polish christmas eve dinner, however, is quite a bit more extravagant.

The Christmas Eve dinner or Wigilia (vigil), begins with fasting (a shared practice among many Roman Catholics). Then, when dark arrives, so begins the feasting. But first, some families share a Christmas Wafer (op?atek) that has been blessed by a local priest. 

Borscht with uzska
Borscht with uzska

A traditional Polish dinner usually consists of fish and no red meat, where the fish is sometimes put into other dishes like borscht (beetroot soup) with uszka (ravioli) and soups. But when fish is served as a main dish it typically comes in the form of herring or carp and is made into many

Makowiec
Makowiec

delectable dishes like fillets in butter sauce, carp in aspic, and so on.

The sides that are included most often are mushrooms, cabbage, potato salad, pierogi and pickled kompot, a non-alcoholic drink that is made made by cooking fruit in a large volume of water. And for dessert Poles like to make what is called a makowiec (a shared tradition in many European countries) or poppyseed roll (try this recipe!), a decadent pastry made with sweet yeast bread with a dense bittersweet filling of poppyseed and sometimes walnuts.

Then, on Christmas Day, the people of Poland spend time visiting relatives and attending masses throughout the day.

Christmas in Italy

Christmas in Italy is a very big deal. On Dec 8 starting with The Feast of the Immaculate Conception (Italian Festa dell'Immacolata Concezione) so begins Christmas in Italy. Christmas trees are put up and decorated, and nativity scenes are erected all over the country. But that's only one part of the tradition, the other part, of course, is the food.

Much like most Western European countries, an Italian Christmas is steeped in tradition, family and food. December is marked all over with semi-religious and religious holidays, celebrations, feasts, and gatherings. But nothing beats the feast of Christmas Eve.

Because many Italians attend Midnight Mass on Christmas (Catholicism is very prominent in Italy) they observe the custom of not eating meat on Christmas Eve. What they have instead is called The Feast of the Seven Fishes (Festa dei sette pesci), consisting of seven different fishes as the name implies. This usually consists of dried cod, anchovies, lobster, sardines, eels, octopus, shrimp, mussels, you name it. As long as it swims in the sea, it qualifies.

But The Feast of the Seven Fishes menu isn't complete without sides to accompany the many variations of fish dinners that populate Italian plates. This includes pastas of every variety, vegetables, baked or fried kale patties, baked goods and homemade wine.

Italian Desserts
Italian Desserts

For dessert, Italians enjoy traditional Christmas sweets as well as pandoro, panettone, torrone, panforte, struffoli depending on region of the country you are from. Then on Christmas Day, Italian families usually relax, spend time together and enjoy a lunch various meats and cheeses and local Italian sweets.

How are you celebrating Christmas? Want more information on making your Christmas dinner perfect this year no matter where you live? Contact us any time.