If you’re American, your idea of a traditional Christmas dinner very likely revolves around turkey or ham with all the trimmings. You may know of other households that roast a leg of lamb, a goose, or a prime rib as well, but have you ever wondered what families around the world prepare for Christmas dinner?
Like America, the rest of the world’s countries have special foods without which it just wouldn’t be Christmas. Let’s take a closer look at some of our favorites and explore the origins of those traditions.
Most Americans see Christmas as lasting just one day. However, in Mexico, Christmas is an entire season that begins on December 12th
and lasts until January 6th
. Over the course of those days, children explore the nativity story of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus via performances called Posadas. Gifts are exchanged in Mexico, just as they are in America, but not until January 6th
, El Dia de los Reyes.
El Dia de los Reyes is also typically the day iconic Christmas feasts are consumed. In Mexico, nothing beats a feast of spicy tamales for Christmas dinner, sometimes accompanied by a salt cod and vegetable dish called bacalao. Many Mexican-American families
opt for tamales over turkey, as well.
If you were French, you would not only know Christmas as “Noel,” but you’d start celebrating it on December 6th
and continue celebrating for twelve straight days. You’d also rear your children to look forward to leaving shoes out for Santa Claus (also known as Pere Noel) in the hopes that he’d return the favor by leaving gifts. On Christmas Eve, you and your family would attend midnight vigil mass and then return home for your big feast immediately afterward.
In France, it just isn’t Christmas without a buche de noel
or yule log, a traditional cake that really is designed to look like a log. The French also enjoy a multitude of little shortbread cookies called punitions. Savory fare often includes the likes of oysters and foie gras
. In fact, in France, up to 70% of the country’s oyster consumption
occurs between Christmas and New Year’s Day.
While Christmas and Christmas Eve are definitely big deals in Sweden, the 13th
of December is often an even bigger day when it comes to celebrating and feasting. That’s St. Lucia’s Day, a day that finds Swedish children dressing in white and carrying candles throughout the day. This is also a day that finds all Swedes laughing, singing, and making merry in general.
In Sweden, no Christmas table would be considered complete without Swedish meatballs. However, these aren’t the meatballs you might think you know. For Christmas, Swedes pack theirs with a multitude of flavors, including but not limited to onion and espresso, and serve them alongside plenty of lingonberry jam. Other essentials you might see in a Swedish Christmas spread include a classic rice pudding called risgrynsgrot
and S-shaped sweet buns called lussekatter
Here in North America, Christmas takes place in the winter. We tend to associate it with evergreen trees, snowfall, and snowmen as a result. In Australia, however, December falls during the summertime. For that reason, while Australians do observe familiar traditions like singing Christmas carols, they’re much more likely to be found barbecuing outdoors or partaking in light seafood lunches than slaving away over a hot oven.
Australians also include sweets and desserts as part of their holiday fare. Favorites include Pavlova, a light and sweet dish made of meringue, as well as a bounty of fresh summer fruits. Aussies also love sugar plum pudding and mince pies.
Can you picture celebrating Christmas by chowing down on a feast that consists entirely of fast food? The Japanese certainly can. It can’t be just any fast food, though. It’s got to be Kentucky Fried Chicken. Don’t make the mistake of thinking the typical Japanese family simply ambles over the local KFC and picks up an order when they feel like it, either. KFC Christmases
are such a big thing in Japan that orders are placed months in advance.
Why KFC? Christmas isn’t a national holiday in Japan, as only about 1% of the population is Christian. Also, turkey isn’t a thing in Japan, so chicken is about the closest alternative you can get. KFC pounced on the golden opportunity to market Christmas meals to the Japanese as far back as the 1970s, and the rest is history!
This holiday season, consider adding one of these vibrant Christmas traditions to your meal. Happy Holidays!