This is What Christmas Dinner Looks Like in 10 Different Countries Around the World
Sure, family is important, but no matter where in the world you happen to live, it’s the traditional festive table which really steals the show on Christmas day.
The UK tradition of getting more stuffed than your festive turkey on roast potatoes, vegetables and Christmas pudding varies subtly from household to household, but the differences between food traditions around the world are more drastic. And, dare I say, exciting!
So, loosen that belt a notch and get ready to devour everything from fried chicken to whale blubber in a whistlestop tour around some of the world’s most tantalising festive feasts.
Image: Flickr/Richard Hemmer
Traditionally served on Christmas eve, the Swedish Julbord is a veritable Smörgåsbord (quite literally!) of culinary delights served up buffet style in multiple courses.
While the impressive fish course is swimming with pickled herring, Gravadlax and fish eggs, the star of the show is the ham. Salt cured, unsmoked and roasted with a coating of flavoured bread crumbs, this showstopper is my dog Trisha’s favourite food and I have no doubt she would callously hurl me right under Santa's sleigh for a mere nibble.
Other Swedish treats include Jansson's frestelse (Jansson's temptation), a creamy potato casserole with pickled sprats and delicious yellow, s-shaped saffron buns.
Image: Wikicommons/Jonas Bergsten
Everything washed down with liberal lashings of Glögg (mulled wine) and — for some reason — everyone watches Donald Duck.
Christmas isn’t a long-established holiday in Japan and it shows in their Kentucky fried food tradition!
Thanks largely to an incredibly successful ‘70s advertising campaign from the fried chicken mogul, many Japanese families order a traditional KFC weeks in advance for Christmas eve. Unsurprisingly, this is Colonel Sander’s busiest night of the year as demand soars.
As there are so few Christians in Japan, Christmas is seen as a family or romance orientated affair and taking your sweetie out for a celebratory strawberry shortcake (also popular on birthdays) is common.
3. Czech Republic
The classic Czech Christmas meal consists of a feast of fried carp. Although things have moved on a little now, the carp was traditionally brought alive and kept in the bathtub to keep it extra fresh for a few days before it’s starring role as dinner.
As in many European countries, Christmas eve is the main event, but some people still fast all day until the evening dinner in the hope of seeing a vision of a golden piglet which is said to bring good luck!
The most popular Christmas eve dish in Norway is roast pork, boiled potatoes and sauerkraut, but in some regions there's a much more offaly offering to be had.
Smalahove is a whole sheep’s head which is salted dried and boiled. In some preparations, the brain is cooked inside the skull and then eaten with a spoon or fried. This tradition is thought to have come from less wealthy families making the most of the cuts they could afford, but it’s now a delicacy (or a food challenge for brave tourists) as opposed to a poor man’s meal.
In Italy La Vigilia di Natale (Christmas Eve), Natale (Christmas day) and Il Giorno di Santo Stefano (Boxing day) are all multi-course meals which last a good six or seven hours a piece.
La Vigilia di Natale (Vigil of the Nativity) marks the wait for the birth of Christ and — as Catholic tradition prohibits the consumption of meat on the evenings before religious holidays — it is a huge fishy feast. Naturally, due to its reliance on fresh seafood, this meal is mostly celebrated in the southern and Adriatic parts of Italy.
Fishes are most commonly served up in a whopping seven different varieties which some people say might symbolise:
- The Seven Virtues – faith, hope, charity, temperance, prudence, fortitude, and justice
- The Seven Deadly Sins – lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride
- The Seven Sacraments – baptism, confirmation, Eucharist, penance or reconciliation, anointing of the sick, holy orders, and marriage
- The Seven days God required to create the world
- The seven days it took Mary and Joseph to travel to Bethlehem
In common with much of Eastern Europe, Lithuania dishes up an intricate 12 dish Christmas eve feast named Kūčios— one to represent each of the disciples. Meat, eggs and milk were traditionally prohibited from the table by the Orthodox Church, so the most popular dishes are pescatarian with herring, salmon and baked pike often stealing the show.
Other nibbles include kūčiuka — delicate sweet pastries soaked in poppy milk, beet soup with dumplings, sauerkraut, dried fruit soups, vegetable salads and cranberry pudding.
The Lithuanian Christmas feast is awash with tradition and the table is traditionally decorated by straw, covered by a white tablecloth. Although the straw is meant to be reminiscent of Jesus’s stable birth, there is also a A superstition which says that if you pull a piece of straw from under the tablecloth and it's long, you will have a long life.
Image: Wikicommons/Lisa Risager
Although a lot of Greenland gathers together to a Christmas dinner similar to that served in other Scandinavian countries, more remote regions still enjoy time-honoured nomadic cuisine.
Some of the more unusual offerings are mattak — strips of the skin and blubber of a beluga whale and kiviak — little auk birds which are packed into a seal skin and covered in rocks to ferment.
In traditional Inuit communities where gender roles are still very much embedded, men serve the women and tend the food for Christmas day.
8. Puerto Rico
In Puerto Rico, the main festive meal is commonly lechon asado (roast pork on a spit), served with 'arroz con gandules' (rice, pigeon peas and pork which is cooked in sofrito sauce.
If you think cooking the standard British Christmas dinner is a pig of a task, spare a thought for the lechon asado chefs! The arduous process requires at least two people to turn the spit and it’s not uncommon to start at 2am to get the porker crisped and cooked for Christmas day.
Any eggnog fans should be sure to give Puerto Rican coquito (meaning little coconut) a go. This rich and creamy eggnog-like drink is whipped up from rum, condensed milk and (you’ve guessed it!) coconut milk. It tastes divine.
9. Costa Rica
Christmas dinner is a late night affair in Costa Rica as it’s normally served after midnight mass on Christmas eve.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the food served tends to be less elaborate (but no less delicious) and people generally tucker down on pork or chicken tamales which are wrapped in plantain leaves for cooking. The tamale feast is washed down with rum punch.
It’s more and more common to be vegan these days, but the customary Bulgarian 'Christmas eve meal (badni vecher) is also entirely free of meat, eggs and dairy in accordance with Orthodox fasting traditions.
Common dishes include boiled, wheat with sugar and walnuts (kolivo), pickled vegetables, red pepper spread (lyutenitsa), sour bean soup, stuffed peppers and desserts with honey.
Many of the foods have symbolic meanings around fertility, abundance and the hope for a sweet new year ahead.
Another Bulgarian staple is the pita, a round loaf of bread which is broken into pieces by the head of the family and doled out, with one lucky recipient finding a coin imbued with luck, health and riches for the year to come.