Christmas Culinary Traditions Around the World

Peru

In Peru, the festivities begin on Christmas Eve, known as La Noche Buena, or “The Good Night.” After a busy day of celebration, families head to an evening mass, but once the clock strikes midnight, the true party begins. This is when children open their presents and families sit down to feast on Christmas dinner. The most common main dish is roast turkey, although roast suckling pig is popular, too. You’ll also see some variations based on location, with fresh fish for those on the coast, a mixture of meats called pachamanca in the Andes, and roast wild chicken in the jungle. Other favorites are traditional salads with fruit purees, applesauce, and sweet and savory tamales. For dessert, families will gather round with mugs of Peruvian hot chocolate, spiced with cloves and cinnamon, and a slice of panéton, an Italian-style sweet bread.

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Greece

Greece has many traditional dishes served at Christmas dinner. The main course is usually pork, followed by classic side dishes such as yiaprakia stuffed cabbage, avgolemono—a soup full of egg, lemon, chicken, and rice, and Christopsomo—a sweet bread. But it’s dessert that’s perhaps the most exciting part of a Greek Christmas! Melomakarona and kourabiethes cookies are a hit, along with karythopita—a spiced walnut cake, and the famous baklava. There’s plenty more where that came from, with even more timeless desserts. The most common ingredients in these mouthwatering treats are honey, thin pastry dough, and powdered sugar.

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Australia

Australians have their own unique take on Christmas dinner, especially since the holiday falls during their Summer. Ham and mince pies are a traditional favorite, in addition to endless shrimp; from king to tiger to giant banana prawns, succulent shrimp are a common theme in many dishes. Fresh fruit is also popular, specifically juicy mangoes and plump cherries. You can find fruit in various desserts, as well. White Christmas is a cake-like dessert with raisins, cherries, and coconut, while Pavlova is a meringue-based dessert topped with whipped cream and fresh berries. Other beloved desserts are English- style puddings and gingerbread. Even with all of this delicious food, it wouldn’t be an Australian celebration without some yummy drinks! Sweet, fruity recipes reign supreme, and adults choose to cool off with refreshing sangria, shandy, and summery cocktails.

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Hungary

Hungary adds its own Eastern European flair to the holiday season. Christmas markets are a trendy way to celebrate and prevalent in the capital city of Budapest. Staples of Christmas dinner are halászlé, a spicy fish soup, and stuffed cabbage with minced pork, rice, and tomato sauce. Some families serve roast goose or duck, too. For dessert, beigli—a walnut and poppy seed pastry, bread pudding with poppy seeds, and szaloncukor, or “parlor candy,” are all guaranteed to be on the table. Once the children have sleepily curled up by the fireside, the adults will end the night with a steaming mug of mulled wine, flavored with orange and holiday spices.

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Iceland

The traditional Christmas dinner in Iceland revolves around fish and meat; fermented skate, marinated herring, and smoked lamb, ptarmigan, or ham are the most common dishes. Laufabrauð, or “leaf bread,” is synonmous with Christmas. The crisp flatbread is made of very thin dough with patterns cut into it. Other popular desserts are a Danish-influenced creamy vanilla rice pudding with almonds and cherries and all kinds of cookies that’ve been passed down through generations of families. Adults like to sip on malt beer and Brennivín, a famous liquor known as the “Black Death.”

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Spain

Much like Peru, Spain’s main festivities kick off on Christmas Eve, and they’re all about lavish celebrations. Roast turkey, pig, lamb, and lobster are all commonly served today. Different kinds of seafood are sure to be found on the dinner table, and most families dine on some kind of fish stew. Families fill up on tapas made with fresh vegetables, cheeses, pâtés, mandarins, and figs. Yet with all these yummy foods, dessert is the highlight for many Spaniards. Turrón, and other nougat dishes, crumbly mantecados, and sweet, almond-flavored marzipan are all crowd pleasers and pair well with Cava, a sparkling Spanish wine.

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Japan

Only 1% of Japan’s population are Christian, but Christmas has become widely celebrated throughout the country. The holiday has more cultural than religious significance here, and they celebrate in a truly unique way—with KFC. The story goes that back in the 1970s, people wanted to buy turkeys to replicate an American Christmas meal, but supermarkets didn’t carry the bird. KFC saw this as a golden opportunity and came up with the slogan "Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!" meaning “Kentucky for Christmas!” A holiday meal includes a bucket of fried chicken, cake, and sparkling wine. The restaurant gets flooded with orders, so much so that people call in up to two months in advance. Another staple is “Christmas cake,” sponge cake with whipped cream, strawberries, and decorations that can be bought at just about any local food store.   

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Italy

In the diverse country of Italy, the Christmas menu largely depends on the region. Based on the area’s specialty, the feast centers on assorted kinds of fish, meats, or pasta. But no matter the cuisine, every meal is overflowing with savory flavors and contains more food than one can eat! However, it’s important not to get too full before dessert time; families dig into the country’s many heavenly desserts, including panettone, panfort, pandoro, torrone, and amaretti cookies. No meal is complete without Prosecco, and dessert is best served with a glass of Bombardino, Italian eggnog.

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