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Christmas dinner is the primary meal traditionally eaten on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Christmas dinner around the world may differ and the traditions present below can reflect the culture of the respective country it is being celebrated in. Turkey is present in a fair number of these meals.
- 1 Asia
- 2 Europe
- 3 North America
- 4 Oceania
- 5 South America
- 6 References
In India people cook a variety of foods, including Biryani with chicken or lamb/mutton, chicken and mutton curry, followed by cake or sweets like Kheer. Some cook turkey biryani as well, but it is less common in villages.
The Lebanese, mostly Christians but also Muslims, celebrate Christmas dinners. The feast, usually on both the night of the 24th and lunch of the 25th, is a big one. Some have the leftovers from the dinner prior at the lunch the next day. Family gets together at both meals. Roast turkey is the most common choice of meal. Roasted duck, Lebanese salad (Tabouleh) and pastries such as Honey cake and "Buche De Noël" are also common. At midnight the Christians are seen to go to mass at church. Beirut celebrates Christmas by conducting glamourous and big Christmas parties. Western style exhibitions of poinsettias, Community Christmas trees and Christmas lights are very popular. Most of the Christians in Lebanon observe a fast of 40 days before Christmas as common to the western countries. Another custom which is common is the ringing of church bells in churches to announce the birth of Christ.
The Christmas dinner in the Philippines is, as per Hispanic tradition, called Noche Buena, and is held towards midnight of December 24. This usually comes after the entire family has attended the late evening Mass called the Misa de Gallo ("Mass of the Rooster"). The centrepiece of the Noche Buena is often the hamón which is usually a cured leg of pork. This is usually served with queso de bola, literally a ball of edam cheese covered in a red wax. Other ubiquitous dishes are pasta and for dessert, fruit salad. The dinner would usually be accompanied with tsokolate or hot cocoa, which is made with pure, locally grown cacao beans. Some families prefer tsokolate prepared from tablea or tablets of pressed cocoa powder that is either pure or slightly sweetened. Most of the food served on Noche Buena are fresh and usually prepared during the day of Christmas Eve.
Middle-class and affluent families tend to prepare sumptuous feasts which sometimes includes any of the following: lechónor spit-roasted pig; lumpia; escabeche; adobo; rellenong manok or stuffed chicken; roast turkey; mechado (beef stew); kaldereta (spicy beef stew); paella; and other traditional fiesta dishes. Families that are not as affluent would opt for a more economical Noche Buena; the organising of even a simple gathering despite financial difficulties reflects the importance in Filipino culture of familial (and by extension communal) unity over most other concerns.
This importance placed on the family is also found in all socio-economic classes and ethnic groups in the Philippines in that during the Noche Buena, most if not all members from branch or extended families in a clan are always expected to appear at the celebrations. Relatives living abroad, especially OFWs, are highly encouraged to return home for the occasion, as it is the most important holiday of the year for many Filipinos. Most families prefer to exchange Christmas presents right after the dinner, in contrast to the Western custom of opening presents on Christmas morning.
In Austria, Christmas Eve is the celebration of the end of the pre-Christmas fast. Christmas Eve is historically the day that the tree is decorated and lit with real candles, so that the Christkindl may visit. Christmas Day is a national holiday in Austria and most Austrians spend the day feasting with their family. Fried carp, Sacher torte and Christmas cookies (Lebkuchen and sterne) are eaten, and many other chocolate delicacies including edible Christmas ornaments. Christmas dinner is usually goose, ham served with Gluhwein, Rumpunsch, and chocolate mousse.
A traditional Christmas meal in the Czech Republic is fried carp and potato salad which are eaten during Christmas dinner in the evening of 24 December. Many households also prepare a great variety of special Christmas cookies to offer to Christmas visitors. These are prepared many days prior to the feast and take a long time to decorate, with the remainder usually ending up on a Christmas tree as a decoration.
In Denmark, the traditional Christmas meal served on December 24 consists of roast pork with crackling or goose or duck. The meat is served along with boiled potatoes (some of which are caramelized, some roasted), red cabbage, and plenty of gravy. It is followed with a dessert of Risalamande, rice pudding served with cherry sauce or strawberry sauce, often with a whole almond hidden inside. The lucky finder of the almond of which is entitled to an extra present, the almond gift. Christmas drinks are Gløgg and traditional Christmas beers, specially brewed for the season. These usually have high alcohol content.
Joulupöytä (translated "Christmas table") is the name of the traditional food board served at Christmas in Finland, similar to the Swedish smörgåsbord. It contains many different dishes, most of them typical for the season. The main dish is usually a large Christmas ham, which is eaten with mustard or bread along with the other dishes. Fish is also served (often lutefish and gravlax or smoked salmon), and with the ham there are also different casseroles usually with potatoes, rutabaga or carrots. The traditional Christmas beverage is either alcoholic or non-alcoholic mulled wine (glögi in Finnish).
In France and some other French-speaking countries, a réveillon is a long dinner, and possibly party, held on the evenings preceding Christmas Day and New Year's Day. The name of this dinner is based on the word réveil (meaning "waking"), because participation involves staying awake until midnight.
In Germany, the primary Christmas dishes are roast goose and roast carp, although suckling pig or duck may also be served. Typical side dishes include roast potatoes and various forms of cabbage such as kale, brussel sprouts, and red cabbage. In some regions the Christmas dinner is traditionally served on Christmas Day rather than Christmas Eve. In this case, dinner on Christmas Eve is a simpler affair, consisting of sausages (such as Bockwurst or Wiener) and potato salad. Sweets and Christmas pastries are nearly obligatory and include marzipan, spice bars (Lebkuchen), several types of bread, and various fruitcakes and fruited breads like Christstollen and Dresdener Stollen.
The Christmas dinner is eaten on Christmas Eve at 18:00. The main dish varies much between families. The most common is probably Hamborgarhryggur, which is a kind of Gammon steak. Other common dishes are roast game like reindeer, ptarmigan and smoked lamb, (hangikjöt) and a great variety of steaks such as Duck, Turkey which are also eaten by many on Christmas Day or at other occasions during the Christmas period.
Preparations for Christmas dinner begin on Christmas Eve. People will boil the ham and may start to prepare vegetables. The Irish Christmas dinner consists of turkey, ham, Brussels sprouts, roast potatoes, stuffing and various vegetables. The old tradition would have been a duck or a goose and many people in Ireland still follow this tradition. The dinner usually consists of roast turkey (although other poultry such as goose, chicken, duck, capon or pheasant are alternatives), sometimes with roast beef or ham or, to a lesser extent, pork. In some parts of Ireland, especially County Cork, they will also eat Spiced Beef. Served with stuffing, gravy and sometimes forcemeat; pigs in blankets; cranberry sauce or redcurrant jelly; bread sauce; roast potatoes (sometimes also boiled or mashed); vegetables (usually boiled or steamed), particularly Brussels sprouts and carrots; with dessert of Christmas pudding (or plum pudding), sometimes mince pies or trifle, with brandy butter and/or cream.
Italian regional traditions are varied. They are polarized in two areas: Northern Italy and Southern Italy (from Rome southwards). Moreover, often the Christmas Eve Supper is more important than the Christmas Dinner, because the Holy Mass is celebrated at midnight.
The primo is usually a kind of soup made with pasta (usually filled pasta, like tortellini) boiled in meat or capon broth.
The secondo is very different in the two areas. In Northern Italy they usually eat poultry, often filled, or roasted or boiled and seasoned with sauces, like mostarda. In Southern Italy they eat the fried capitone eel, which is typical of Christmas Eve, because this is a fasting day. On Christmas Day they could eat roasted lamb or fish.
Christmas sweets are really varied and every region and sub region has its own. Generally speaking, in Northern Italy they eat a cake enriched with candy fruits, raisins, pine nuts, whose most famous type is panettone, followed by torrone nougat and nuts. In Southern Italy instead of one cake they serve many kind of marzipan, biscuits, zeppole, cannoli, candy fruits, fresh fruits. In the last few decades, panettone has become popular as a Christmas sweet all over Italy. They eat another type of cake, the Pandoro.
Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine
In the areas of the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (e.g., Lithuania, Poland), an elaborate and ritualized meal of twelve meatless dishes is served on the Eve of Christmas (24 December), Ukraine and Belarus (6 January). This is because the pre-Christmas season is a time of fasting, which is broken on Christmas Day.
One typical Dutch tradition is that of 'gourmet,' an evening long event where small groups of people sit together around a gourmet-set and use their own little frying pan to cook and season their own food in very small portions. The host has prepared finely chopped vegetables and different types of meats, fish and prawns/shrimps. Everything is accompanied by different salads, fruits and sauces. The origin of gourmet lies most likely in the former Dutch colony Indonesia.
The Dutch also enjoy more traditional Christmas-dinners, especially meats and game like roast beef, duck, rabbit, and pheasant. This generally served with different types of vegetables, potatoes and salads. In recent years, traditions from Anglo-Saxon countries have become increasingly popular, most notably the UK-style turkey.
The most common dish is svineribbe (usually just ribbe), pork belly side prepared with seasoning, for proper crackling. Usually it is consumed together with sauerkraut, redcurrant sauce, flatbread and a few shots of akevitt (to wash down the rather greasy meal). In the western parts of the country, pinnekjøtt, mutton ribs, is by far the most popular Christmas dinner. The traditional lutefisk is also still eaten by some, but it is more commonly eaten at other occasions during the Christmas period.. For dessert rice pudding is very popular, served with a raspberry sauce.
Christmas Day is a national holiday in Poland and most Poles spend the day feasting with their family. The Christmas meal is quite a feast, served in the evening on 24 December, offering large quantities of food. This Christmas Eve meal is called Wigilia. After the first star appears in the sky, everyone shares the Christmas wafer (oplatek) and wishes good things for the coming year. Then supper begins. The meal is meatless, honoring Catholic tradition. Many households also prepare a great variety of special Christmas dishes, typically numbering 12 in honor of the 12 apostles. Dishes include: stuffed carp, fried carp, herring in wine sauce, herring in cream sauce, fruit compote, vegetable salad, soup (beetroot, mushroom, or fish) with uszka, pierogi, peas and carrots, boiled potatoes, mushroom cream sauce, sauerkraut, and makowiec (poppy seed rolled cake). Most households leave an empty plate at the table for an unexpected guest. Straw or hay is usually on the table to symbolize the manger. In the modern days a lot of people put also money under the tablecloth to attract wealth in the new year. During the season, pierniczki, or honey ginger cookies, are baked.
In the land of dried and salted cod, traditional Christmas dinner could not escape the norm. Traditionally, in Portugal the family gets together around the table on Christmas Eve to eat boiled dried-salted codfish accompanied with boiled cabbage, boiled potatoes, boiled eggs, chickpeas, onions, parsley, etc.. All accompanied with generous amounts of olive oil. There are variations across the country and, less traditionally, roasted turkey or pork can also be served either for dinner on the 24th or for lunch on the 25th.
Romanian food served during the holidays is a hearty multi-coursed meal, most of which consists of pork (organs, muscle, and fat). This is mainly a symbolic gesture for St. Ignatius of Antioch.
During Christmastime, Romanian bake or buy various special dishes, including desserts, sweets or fries. Romanians most usually bake Cozonac, a somewhat of a Panetone made of flour, yolks, yeast and many other dependable ingredients, flavors, condiments and additions. There are several types of cozonac, with hundreds of recipes. You can either knead it for hours to be out in 6 hours or you can let it crease for 12 hours to avoid kneading it. You can fill the cozonac with chestnuts, cocoa, raisins or Turkish delights. Other Christmas dishes include piftie, sarmale or pork dishes.
Christmas dinner in Slovakia is celebrated on 24 December; dinner takes part at around 5 to 6 pm.The traditional dinner includes oplátky (thin waffles with honey or garlic), sauerkraut soup (kapustnica) with dried mushrooms and sausage (sometimes with dry plums), carp or other fish with potato salad, apples and Christmas biscuits and opekance.
In Slovenian, Christmas Eve is called "Sveta noč" which means "holy night". The Family gathers for dinner at about 6 o'clock in the evening. Typical dishes are potica, "pečenka" and grilled turkey. Mulled wine and eggnog can be served with the food. Some families are also making Christmas biscuits before the dinner.
In Spanish, Christmas Eve is called "Nochebuena," literally translated as "Good Night." In Spain it is celebrated with a large family feast, which is eaten late in the evening and can last a couple hours. Some families attend midnight mass before or after, although many families are still finishing dinner around the table at midnight. In Spain, Christmas Eve is a time for celebrating in neighborhood bars and cafes, and around the table with family and friends. It is a time for gift exchanges or Santa Claus although it is mainly performed on January 6, which is Epiphany, another religious holiday. We have put together a typical Spanish Christmas menu for Christmas Eve dinner. It has several courses starting with some simple tapas or appetizers, first course, main course, and ending with dessert and coffee or after-dinner drinks.
Appetizers: Ham, Cheese and Spanish Chorizo Sausage. Langostinos/Large Prawns: The langostinos or prawns are boiled, then served with a slightly spicy sauce. Primer Plato/First Course: Sopa de Pescado y Marisco – Fish and Shellfish Soup: is a classic soup for the holidays. Shellfish is always part of the menu at any Spanish celebration and Christmas is no different. This soup is a wonderful start to a meal. Serve it piping hot with French bread slices. Esparragos Blancos: white asparagus with oil and vinegar. Plato Principal/Main Course: Cordero Asado/Roast Lamb, Bacalao a la riojana/Rioja Style Salt Cod, Pavo trufado/turkey stuffed with truffles Postre/Dessert: After a brief pause to catch your breath and clear the table, dinner continues with dessert or postre. Turrón, Spanish almond candy. Polvorones or almond cookies. Mantecados or Spanish crumble cakes.
Christmas dinner in the United Kingdom is usually eaten in the afternoon on 25 December.
The dinner usually consists of roast turkey, (although other poultry such as goose, chicken, duck, capon or pheasant are alternatives), sometimes with roast beef or ham or, to a lesser extent, pork. Served with stuffing, gravy and sometimes forcemeat; pigs in blankets; devils on horseback, cranberry sauce or redcurrant jelly; bread sauce; roast potatoes (sometimes also boiled or mashed); vegetables (usually boiled or steamed), particularly brussels sprouts and parsnips; with dessert of Christmas pudding (or plum pudding), sometimes mince pies or trifle, with brandy butter and/or cream. Wine often claret and liqueurs are served throughout. The meal can last upwards of three hours.
In England, the evolution of the main course into turkey did not take place for years, or even centuries. At first, in medieval England, the main course was either a peacock or a boar, the boar usually the mainstay. The turkey appeared on Christmas tables in England in the 16th century, and popular history tells of King Henry VIII being first English monarch to have turkey for Christmas. The 16th century farmer Thomas Tusser noted that by 1573 turkeys were commonly served at English Christmas dinners. The tradition of turkey at Christmas rapidly spread throughout England in the 17th century, and it also became common to serve goose which remained the predominant roast until the Victorian era. (it was quite common for Goose "Clubs" to be set up, allowing working-class families to save up over the year towards a goose before this). A famous Christmas dinner scene appears in Dickens' A Christmas Carol (1843), where Scrooge sends Bob Cratchitt a large turkey. The pudding course of a British Christmas dinner may often be Christmas pudding, which dates from medieval England. Trifle, mince pies, Christmas cake or a yule log are also popular.
In English Canada, Christmas dinner is similar to that of England. Traditional Christmas dinner features turkey with stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, and vegetables such as carrots, turnip, parsnips etc. Other types of poultry, roast beef or ham is also used. For dessert, pumpkin or Apple pie, raisin pudding, Christmas pudding or fruitcake are the staple. Eggnog, a milk-based punch that is often infused with alcohol, is also very popular around the holiday season. Other Christmas items include Christmas cookies, butter tarts and shortbread, which are traditionally baked before the holidays and served to visiting friends, at various Christmas and New Year parties, as well as on Christmas Day.
In French Canada, traditions may be more like those of France. (See Réveillon) Other ethnic communities may continue to use old world traditions as well.
In Honduras, tamales are traditionally eaten on Christmas Eve evening. Turkey has become popular in the last few years. The traditional Honduran Christmas dinner is served around midnight on the 24th of December. The meal consists of tamales, roast pork leg, accompanied by "torrejas," for dessert and eggnog. The tamales are made of maize dough filled with chicken or pork, chunks of potato and carrot, chickpeas, and whole green olives. They are wrapped in banana leaves and steamed to perfection. The pork leg may be fresh or smoked and is usually roasted all day long. The skin of the pork is left on during roasting resulting in a delicacy known as "chicharron," a treat rivaled for at many a Honduran family table. The traditional recipe for seasoning the Christmas pork leg has often been passed down in a given family through generations. Turkey has become quite popular as well in recent years due to strong US/Honduran familial ties. "Torrejas," the Honduran Christmas dessert is made of a French toast like bread that is soaked in dark syrup made from "rapadura," blocks of very dark sugar. The syrup is seasoned with whole cloves and whole cinnamon. After dinner the meal is topped off with Honduran style eggnog known as "rompopo."
In Mexico traditional Christmas dinner is a shared event which is celebrated on Christmas Eve, or Noche Buena. With a location being set by a family, the host usually contributes the bulk of decorations, food, and dinner ware; guests are expected to contribute with a side dish, dessert, or alcoholic beverages. Traditional foods differ by region, but include tamales, atole, pozole, birria, menudo. Dishes which are usually only prepared during Christmas time are romeritos, bacalao, and stuffed turkey. Tamale preparation varies from region to region. It is usual for tamale fillings to include beef or pork with red sauce, chicken with a green chile sauce or cheese with jalapeño "rajas" or strips inside a corn or rice masa and steamed inside corn husks or banana leaves. Sweet tamales filled with pineapple, raisins, strawberries, or corn are also common. Sweets such as flan, a brulee-like custard with carmelized sugar,buñuelos, fruit and milk or liquer-flavored gelatin or Champurrado. Beverages like canela (tea sweetened with pilloncillo), Rompope, and Ponche are also common favorites.
In some areas more Americanized fare such as brandy-glazed ham, chicken, turkey or sometimes duck is served. Stuffing is not common but has been imported by visiting relatives into some household but has not taken into popular cuisine. Often served are also mixed grilled,stewed with sauces,or raw vegetables like carrots, potatoes, spinach, cactus, onions, chayote squash and radishes. Salsa is always served as a garnish and accompanied by queso fresco, tortillas, and refried beans, if not "sopa de arroz," rather rice cooked with tomato and spices. The bacalao fish is common in coastal zones, along with shrimp or fish soup.
Often Christmas Eve or "Noche Buena" is more celebrated than Christmas Day in part due to the tradition of Posadas in the predominantly Catholic country. In some neighborhoods, block parties may be common with neighbors going house to house and sharing dishes of food. In smaller rural villages the entire congregation may join in a parish-wide celebration.
The tradition of recalentado (lit. reheating) is also widespread, with families and friends convening again in the afternoon of Christmas Day to enjoy the leftovers from the dinner. This tradition is also followed on New Year's Eve, with a subsequent recalentado on New Year's Day. Often, families go to other relatives for recalentado, so if a family stayed with the mother's relatives on Christmas Eve, they would go to the father's relatives for Christmas Day, for example.
Also, families wait until midnight to make a toast to the family and give each other hugs. After that, many families exchange gifts and open them rather than on Christmas morning. However, most Mexicans celebrate another day of gift-giving on Epiphany (January 6) to commemorate the gifts the Magi, or Reyes Magos (lit. King-Magicians), brought the babyJesus on that date.
Most Christmas customs in the United States have been adopted from those in the United Kingdom (though others have come from Italy, France, Scandinavia, and Germany.)  Accordingly, the mainstays of the British table are also found in the United States: roast turkey (or other poultry), beef, ham, or pork; stuffing (or 'dressing'), mashed potatoes and gravy, squash, roasted root vegetables are common. Common desserts include pumpkin pie, plum pudding or Christmas pudding and mince pies. In the South, coconut cake, pecan pie, and sweet potato pie are also common.
The centerpiece of a sit-down meal varies on the tastes of the host but can be ham, roast beef, or goose, particularly since turkey is the mainstay at dinner for the American holiday of Thanksgiving in November, around one month earlier. Regional meals offer diversity. Virginia has oysters, ham pie, and fluffy biscuits, a nod to its very English 17th century founders. The Upper Midwest includes dishes from predominantly Scandinavian backgrounds such as lutefisk and mashed rutabaga or turnip. In some rural areas, game meats like elk, opossum or quail may grace the table, often prepared with recipes that are extremely old: it is likely that similar foodstuffs graced the tables of early American settlers on their first Christmases.
Christmas lunch (in Australia, dinner refers to the evening meal) in Australia is based on the traditional English and North American versions. However due to Christmas falling in the heat of the Southern Hemisphere's summer, meats such as ham, turkey and chicken are sometimes served cold with cranberry sauce, accompanied by side salads or roast vegetables. Barbecues are also a popular way of avoiding the heat of the oven. Seafood such as prawns, lobster and crayfish are common, as are barbecued cuts of steak or chicken breasts, drumsticks and wings. In summer, Australians are also fond of pavlova, a dessert composed of fruit atop a baked meringue. Fruits of the season include cherries and mangoes. Introduced by Italian Australians, panettone is widely available in shops, particularly in Sydney and Melbourne.
The Christmas customs of New Zealand are largely identical to the United Kingdom. Christmas dinner consists of roast turkey, roast vegetables, stuffing, and cranberry sauce. Alternatively, roast ham may be offered as a main course. Desserts are commonly mince pies, Christmas pudding, trifle and brandy butter. Enjoyment of non-British Christmas foods, such as stollen from Germany, Bûche de Noël from France, and panettone from Italy, was virtually unheard of in New Zealand until the late 1990s and is still rare today. Due to New Zealanders celebrating Christmas in the summer, it is also common to barbecue, and eat seasonal fruit such as cherries and strawberries. Pavlova is also popular.
In Brazil, the Christmas meal is quite a feast, (served in the evening on 24 December) offering large quantities of food, such as a wide variety of dishes which include fresh vegetables (including Couve a Mineira – Kale, highly seasoned with garlic), luscious fruits and Brazil nuts. Accompanying these are bowls of zesty, colorful rice and platters filled with ham and fresh salad (sometimes cold potato salad is also served) served with roast turkey. Also some parts of Brazil feature roast pork, roast Chicken and fish. Other Christmas items include a variety of desserts such as lemon tart, Nuts pie, chocolate cake and also Panettone.
On Christmas Eve (Noche Buena), the extended family join together for a dinner of roast turkey, and white rice seasoned with garlic. Roast potatoes and uncooked sweetened apple puree are often served as well. The main dessert is panettone. It is usually accompanied by a cup of thick hot chocolate. Less common desserts include a special marzipan made out of Brazil Nuts (due to the scarcity and expense of almonds in Peru) and assorted bowls with raisins, peanuts. At midnight, a toast is made, and good wishes and hugs are exchanged. A designated person runs to put Child Jesus in the Nativity scene. Then, the family members take their seat on the dining room while singing Christmas Carols.
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