Around the World in 10 Traditional Christmas Dinner
Much like Phileas Fogg’s trip around the world, our culinary journey will take us through the diverse realms of traditional Christmas dinner. But, instead of rushing to cover it all in a few days, we’re taking our time to enjoy the diversity of holiday feasts.
Come along as we explore and unveil unique flavors and cultural traditions that make every holiday meal a joyful celebration. From the snowy landscapes of Europe to the paradise-like island of Puerto Rico, let’s discover the traditions that bind us together during the most special time of the year.
Traditional Christmas Dinner Around the World
While Christmas dinner menus change from country to country, the best part of them all is being with your loved ones, enjoying your favorite dishes, and making it a memorable time of the year.
United States and Canada
At Christmas, most Americans and Canadians prefer roast turkey or ham with stuffing. Yes, their Christmas dinner is a lot like Thanksgiving. The menu can vary a bit, but most families love having the traditional turkey or ham with gravy and mashed potatoes on their table. Alongside these main dishes, you’ll often find many types of gravies, pies, roasted beef, cranberry sauce, and mincemeat. Popular dessert choices include pumpkin or apple pie, raisin pudding, or fruitcake.
No other tradition brings families together as a Christmas dinner. In this region, it reflects the diverse cultures and influences of the latest centuries.
Christmas in Mexico means to a large extent a tamale-making party called “tamaladas.” But, the festive meals go beyond that and vary across regions. In central Mexico, you might find romeritos, seepweed sprigs seasoned with shrimp and mole sauce, served with dried shrimp patties or bread slices. Also enchiladas, pozole, and some tasty desserts.
What are tamales anyway? They’re corn masa filled with various ingredients, and wrapped in banana leaves or corn husks.
In Puerto Rico, Christmas is a lively time filled with exquisite traditions. Some favorite dishes are “lechón asado” and “pasteles,”. The first is a delicious spit-roasted pork, and the latter is a special tamale made with green bananas and seasoned meat. Side dishes vary from a bowl of flavorful rice with pigeon peas, and cassava with garlic sauce, to potato or pasta salad. For sweets, Puerto Ricans prepare a coconut and rum drink and sweet rice pudding. What matters most is that families often come together to create these special treats.
South American Christmas dinners blend local flavors with global influences, a sensorial experience up to the region’s rich cultural diversity.
In this country, Christmas dinner is a mix of many cultures, from indigenous groups, Spanish, Italians, and Europeans, as well as more recent influences from the Middle East and Asia. Many families celebrate with a barbecue called “asado,” which is grilled meat like beef ribs and sausages or roasted turkey or pork. Some may choose to have roast suckling pig as the main dish. Empanadas, which are savory pastries, make for tasty appetizers.
Side dishes include chimichurri sauce, salads, and grilled vegetables. For dessert, they enjoy panettone and traditional Argentine sweet bread like “pan dulce” or fruitcake called “budín.” Since Christmas falls during the summer, many families cool off with refreshing Russian salad, cold salads, and ice cream.
In Brazil, Christmas dinner is a fun gathering with a variety of dishes. Families often opt for a “Chester” chicken, a special kind bred to have more breast and thigh meat, instead of the usual turkey. Bacalhau (salted cod) is a popular choice too. Sides like farofa, toasted cassava flour, and rice and beans add to the main meal. Fresh salads with tropical fruits add a refreshing touch. For dessert, Brazilians indulge in rabanada, a sweet fried bread much like French toast, and panettone, the well-known fruity sweet bread but with candied papaya. Other treats include Brazilian sweets like brigadeiros and beijinhos. The festive spread showcases the country’s rich culinary traditions and diverse flavors.
Christmas dinner in Europe has a long history, going back many centuries. As the years passed, each place added its special touch, and new ways of cooking, thanks to trading with other cultures, were adopted. Today, European Christmas dinners reflect a mix of traditional and modern tastes around the world.
In the UK, Christmas feasts often showcase a roast, with options like stuffed turkey, pheasant, goose, or a special roasted beef or beef Wellington. They serve it along with stuffing, roast potatoes, carrots, peas, or other veggies. English usually eat them with cranberry sauce and bread sauce. A Christmas pudding is a common dessert, often served with brandy butter or custard.
This tradition is related to when King Henry VIII made turkey popular for festive meals due to its large size. Some centuries later, Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, and Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” added to that popularity. Today, it’s a solid tradition and the protagonist in their Christmas dinners.
Italians do not eat meat at all on Christmas Eve, instead, they eat fish and seafood. Surprising eh? This comes from the Catholic practice of not eating meat on certain days, and Christmas Eve is considered a day of fasting. While not all follow this tradition, it is a cherished custom and a way to celebrate abundance from the sea, especially in the south. They eat delicious seafood dishes like swordfish, tuna, salmon, octopus salad, smelts, calamari, and spaghetti with clam sauce. Another special dish is the classic Italian salted cod, known as baccalà. Sides often include vegetables, salads, and a variety of cheeses. For dessert, panettone (a sweet bread) and torrone (nougat) are popular treats.
In this country, a Christmas dinner is a festive and flavorful affair. A slow-roasted pig with crispy skin, stuffed with peppers, chilies, and ginger, is a popular main dish, alongside ham, Edam cheese, grilled or fried chicken, and spaghetti-their-way. Filipino families often cook a spread of rice cakes, baked buns with a crispy topping, and hot chocolate made from local cocoa to add some sweetness to the feast. The mix of savory and sweet flavors makes Christmas dinner a truly special and delicious occasion in this part of the world.
In Japan, Christmas is different from how we see it in Western countries. But recently, it has become a special time for celebrating with special meals.
It may come as a surprise that KYC fried chicken has turned into a well-loved Christmas tradition in Japan. Maybe because it is harder to find turkeys there, many families cook a chicken dish such as kara-age, or teriyaki chicken. Some also like to have a Christmas cake, which is a sponge cake adorned with whipped cream, strawberries, chocolates, or seasonal fruits on top, sometimes even with a Santa Claus decoration While Christmas dinner isn’t as elaborate or traditional as in other parts of the world, the best part is sharing such a special moment with loved ones.