As part of our series examining international food traditions related to celebrations and important holidays, today we take a look at traditional Christmas foods from around the world.
Christmas is right around the corner, so it seemed like a good time to look at the traditional foods served in the different parts of the world that celebrate this special day. In North America, we’re used to candy canes, turkey, and gingerbread. How do people in other parts of the world celebrate Christmas through food?
Traditional Christmas Foods from Across the Globe
Some cultures celebrate the main Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve, while others do so on Christmas Day. Here are the main foods eaten at these important holiday meals throughout the world.
- Turkey is the centerpiece of Christmas dinners in the United States, Canada, England, Australia, and New Zealand. In Australia and New Zealand, the turkey (or other poultry) may be served cold or barbecued, as Christmas falls in the middle of their summer.
- Goose is the traditional Christmas dinner meat in Austria and Denmark.
- In the Czech Republic, Christmas dinner features fried carp.
- Ham is the Christmas meat of choice in Finland and Sweden.
- In Honduras and the Philippines, the main meat dish at Christmas dinner is roast pork.
- In Southern Italy, fried eel is served on Christmas Eve, while lamb or fish is served on Christmas Day.
- In Norway, the traditional Christmas dinner meats are pork belly or mutton ribs.
- In Portugal, families gather to eat boiled salted codfish.
Other Main Dishes
- Tamales are featured at Christmas dinners in Honduras and Mexico. Tamales are made from corn dough with meat and vegetables, all boiled or steamed in a leaf wrapped that is discarded before eating.
- In many Eastern European countries, a twelve-dish meat-free dinner is served on Christmas Eve, with each dish representing one of the twelve Apostles. Meat, eggs, and dairy are forbidden because Christmas Eve is a strict fasting day as part of the orthodox Nativity Fast period.
- In the Netherlands, families gather for gourmetten, a long meal similar to a fondue party. Using a special “gourmet set,” each person cooks and seasons his or her own meal in a tiny pan. The host prepares chopped vegetables and meats for the guests to choose from.
- Christmas pudding (also called plum pudding even though it contains no plums) is a tradition in England and countries with close historical ties to England, like Canada and Australia. It is a heavy dessert made of dried fruit, spices, sugar, and fat (often suet or lard). It’s the dessert served by Mrs. Crachit at the end of A Christmas Carol.
- In Denmark, they serve risalamande, a type of rice pudding mixed with whipped cream and almonds and topped with cherry sauce. One whole almond is placed in the dessert, and the person who finds it wins a small gift. Variations of this dessert are also served in Sweden and Norway.
- Marzipan, a sweet almond paste, features in desserts (on its own or in baking) in Germany, Italy, and Peru. It is also used in German stollen, a sweet, fruitcake-like bread with marzipan inside. In Peru, it is made from brazil nuts instead of almonds.
- In Italy, the feature dessert of the Christmas season is pannetone, a sweet cake-like bread made with candied fruits. Pannetone is also served in some South American countries, including Brazil and Peru.
- Eggnog is very popular in Canada and the United States. This egg- and milk-based drink is often served with rum.
- In Austria, Germany, and Scandinavia it is traditional to serve mulled wine. This drink is gaining popularity during the Christmas season in North America, too.
- Danes and Swedes serve specialty Christmas beers.
- Schnapps are popular at Christmastime in Sweden.
The Bottom Line
Christmas dinner is a very special meal for all cultures that celebrate Christmas. There are many more food traditions associated with this holiday than we could fit into one article.
Tell us: What are the Christmas meal traditions in your household? Let us know in the comments.
Christina Newberry is a writer and editor whose work has appeared in national and local magazines and newspapers. With a Bachelor’s degree in English and Anthropology from the University of Victoria and a Journalism Certificate from Langara College, Christina brings keen curiosity and the love of a good story to her work with HealthCastle.com.
Christina is a passionate traveler and urban gardener with an interest in vegetarian eating and making good, tasty food from scratch. Sharing lessons learned from her own experiences, Christina writes about lifestyle topics for HealthCastle, with a focus on eating well at home and on the road.