Think Christmas Dinner and the first image that comes to mind is a table groaning under the weight of a spread fit for kings – roast turkey, mashed or roast potatoes, cranberry sauce, steamed veggies and other trimmings, all characteristic of a typical Christmas meal.
Well, ancient customs and native traditions have combined to influence what lands up on the table on Christmas Day for families in different countries around the world. Let’s embark on a culinary journey around the globe and see what people gorge on for their Christmas Dinner!
Traditionally, Christmas Dinner is the primary meal that is eaten either on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.
UK and Ireland
Interestingly, the Britons did not eat roast turkey as the traditional Christmas meal till about 1650. In Medieval England, the main fare was always roast goose, peacock or boar, with the last being more popular. It was only when the French Jesuits imported turkey into Great Britain from Europe that it began to grace Christmas dinner tables from the 1700s onwards. Today, of course, it is unthinkable to image Christmas dinner without roast turkey and all the other trimmings. A typical Christmas spread (mostly in the afternoons) consists of roast turkey, served with cranberry sauce, bread sauce, roast potatoes, steamed Brussels sprouts and carrots, with the Christmas pudding bringing up the grand finale. Mince pies are equally a must-have accompaniment to the Christmas meal.
Since Christmas falls during the summer season in the Southern hemisphere, meats like chicken, ham and turkey are more popularly served cold as the traditional Christmas dinner. Seafood is another popular option, specially barbecued shrimps and prawns. Dessert could be a baked meringue topped by the fruit in the season – mangoes or cherries.
Christmas Eve in Austria brings to an end the pre-Christmas fasting. Christmas is a national holiday in the country and Austrians normally spend the day feasting and enjoying with their family members. Typical dishes for the traditional Christmas dinner include fried carp, roast goose and ham served with mulled wine and fruit punch. The meal is usually rounded off with rich chocolate mousse.
Christmas is celebrated with all the fervour of a carnival in this South American country! The Christmas meal is nothing short of a feast and is served on Christmas Eve (24 December). Roast turkey, fresh vegetables like kale, seasonal fruits and Brazil nuts form a prominent part of the lavish meal. Roast pork, roast chicken and fish are also consumed in many parts of Brazil. A variety of desserts such as lemon tart, chocolate cake and pies are consumed.
A departure from the traditional roast turkey can be seen in the Czech Republic’s Christmas dinner that typically consists of fried carp and a potato salad. A vast quantity of Christmas cookies is baked by families, to offer friends and relatives on Christmas day.
Christmas dinner takes place on December 24 and includes roast pork with crackling, goose or duck. There is plenty of gravy, roast potatoes and red cabbage. The sweet dish is not the traditional plum pudding but a rich rice pudding served with cherry or strawberry sauce and filled with almonds. Mulled wine flows freely.
The Christmas fare in this Nordic country is more of a ‘Christmas table’, the traditional food board served at Christmas in Finland. Occupying centrestage is the typical large Christmas ham, which is usually eaten with mustard or bread in addition to a variety of other dishes. There is also fish, casseroles with liver, potatoes, rice and carrots.
The French enjoy their Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve in anticipation of staying awake till midnight and beyond. Topping the list of dishes are goose or duck liver (foie gras), oysters, smoked salmon, lobster, and roasted stuffed duck, goose or turkey. A sumptuous and traditional Christmas cake called ‘La Buche de Noël or a Yule log is relished on this day. It is a rich flavoured cream cake shaped like a log. The typical drink is…you guessed it, champagne!
The traditional Christmas dinner is served either on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day itself, and consists mostly of roast goose and roast carp. Roasted suckling pig or duck also finds its way on many tables. Cabbage and its varieties like kale, Brussels sprouts and red cabbage dominate the side dishes which also include roast potatoes. Christmas pastries include marzipan, spice bars, and several types of fruit breads.
Lithuania, Ukraine and Poland
These three Eastern European countries are noted for their elaborate 12-meal Christmas Eve supper. This ritualised meal consists of twelve meatless dishes in honour of the 12 apostles of Christ. The stress on vegetarian fare is because the time leading up to Christmas is observed with fasting and praying. There is no meat, eggs or milk and so the dishes are dominated by fish, mushrooms and all sorts of grains.
Known as Noche Buena by the locals, the traditional Christmas dinner in the Philippines is very much a family affair. It is enjoyed after the entire family has attended the late evening or the Midnight Mass. Pork has a strong presence in this South East Asian country and the mainstay of the Christmas dinner is the Christmas ham. It is served with an Edam cheese ball – a popular Christmas season dish. Affluent Filipino families may also serve spit-roasted pig, stuffed chicken, spicy beef stew and other top favourite Filipino dishes. Hot chocolate is the popular beverage during Christmas in the Philippines.