Delicious Christmas Food Traditions Around the World
More than 2 billion people across 160 countries hunker down over the Christmas holiday to celebrate. That’s quite a widespread holiday! But while all 2 billion of these people may be celebrating the same holiday, the ways in which we celebrate are very, very different — especially when it comes to food.
Christmas food traditions are as diverse as the people and countries who celebrate the holiday. And if we can all agree on one thing at Christmas time, it’s that we don’t mess with tradition. But in case you want to mix up your Christmas table and make the holiday more of a learning experience (and even a trip around the world), here are the best traditional Christmas dishes from 30 different countries.
30. Seven Fishes
Where it's eaten: United States
While the Feast of the Seven Fishes has become more of an Italian-American tradition, the origins of the Christmas Eve feast are rooted in Italy.
The tradition of eating fish on Christmas Eve is a Roman Catholic one that stems from abstaining from meat on the holiday. Seven is a recurring number in Catholicism as well.
Where it's eaten: Armenia
The word "Ghapama" translates to food that is cooked in a covered pot, which could not be a better description of this traditional Christmas dish.
Armenian families feast on Ghapama during the holiday season. The meal is prepared by hollowing out a pumpkin and filling it with boiled rice and dried fruits. Then, it’s drizzled with honey, cinnamon and sugar and baked until soft.
Delicious Ghapama Recipe
You'll spend over two hours cooking this dish, but the fragrant result of this ghapama recipe will make it all worth it.
Where it's eaten: Sweden
In Sweden, "Julbord" translates to "Christmas table," and it refers to the traditional Christmas spread that Swedish families lay out on Christmas. The lavish buffet-style spread is put out on Christmas Eve and typically contains pickled herring, an additional fish course, cold meats and pates, a variety of hot food and then dessert.
The hot food could include meatballs, smoked sausages, ribs, red cabbage, creamed kale and other options.
Delicious Julbord Recipe
Julborn encompasses several dishes, but you'll find a compilation of recipes for some of the most important dishes in Saveaur and on this Swedish food blog.
27. Vitel Tone
Where it's eaten: Argentina
What has grown to become the traditional Christmas meal of Argentina actually has roots in Italy. That's because Argentina is only about 200 years old and has influences from transplants from all over Europe.
Vitel tone, or vitello tonnato in Italian, is a cold dish of sliced beef slathered in a sauce made from tuna, mayonnaise and capers. Since December is a summer month in Argentina, this cold dish is particularly refreshing around the holidays.
Delicious Vitel Tone Recipe
If you want a refreshing Christmas food this year, follow this recipe to wow your guests with vite tone.
Where it's eaten: Poland
Pronounced "vee-gee-lee-a," Wigilia translates to "The Vigil" and is the typical meal served on Christmas Eve in Poland. The meal takes days to prepare, and the family sits down on Christmas Eve to a table with a thin layer of hay underneath the tablecloth to commemorate the manger in which Jesus was born.
The meal starts with the Oplatek traditional wafer. The meatless meal then includes mushroom soup, boiled potatoes, pickled herring, fried fish, pierogies, beans and sauerkraut, babka, pastries and other candies.
Delicious Wigilia Recipe
You'll find traditional recipes for every component of the wigilia meal from this Polish cooking blog.
Where it's eaten: Iceland
When the Christmas season falls in snowy Iceland, families sit down to the traditional Hangikjot.
This dish is made of smoked lamb, mutton or horse meat and can be either hot or cold. It is traditionally served alongside potatoes in béchamel sauce and green peas.
Delicious Hangikjot Recipe
Make a mouth-watering lamb hangikjot with this easy-to-follow traditional recipe.
Where it's eaten: Japan
Santa isn't the only white-haired icon when it comes to Christmas in Japan. It turns out the Japanese have a pension for Colonel Sanders as well. Every Christmas season, an estimated 3.6 million Japanese families duck into Kentucky Fried Chicken on Christmas.
The tradition started after KFC opened in Japan in 1970. Owner Takeshi Okawara started marketing a "Party Barrel" to celebrate the holidays. It was such a smash success that the tradition continues to this day.
Where it's eaten: Austria
Sachertorte is more than a holiday dish for Austrians. It's an iconic sweet, especially for Viennese, any time of year.
The Sacher-Torte was invented by 16-year-old Franz Sacher in 1832 and soon rose to be one of the favorite desserts in the imperial court. The cake is made with rich chocolate and a thin line of apricot jam.
Where it's eaten: Puerto Rico
Lechon is a Christmas specialty in many different countries, but it is especially important in Puerto Rico. The roast suckling pig dish is prepared on a spit and can take quite a long time to prepare — hence why it’s especially popular for special meals like Christmas.
The pig is roasted on full display and is often everyone's favorite part of the Christmas holiday.
Where it's eaten: Mexico
If it's Christmas in Mexico, then it must be time for tamales. Though the traditional food is eaten year-round, tamales are absolutely mandatory during Christmastime.
Traditional tamales are made with pork and beef, but each region has its own way of preparing them. For example, Tabasco fills its tamales with fish, while in Oaxaca, tamales are often served with mole negro.
Delicious Tamales Recipe
Make authentic Pueblan tamales from scratch with a recipe that comes from a Mexican grandmother. (And we all know grandmas always have the best food.)
Where it's eaten: Greenland
This Greenland Christmas dish is not for the faint of heart. Mattak (also known as muktuk) is a delicacy in Greenland, though it may be hard to digest (literally and figuratively) for people in other parts of the world. Made from the skin and fat of a whale, it is typically cut into cubes and eaten raw.
Nowadays, you can also find mattak to be breaded and fried or even pickled. It was once a primary source of vitamins and nutrients for indigenous people living up in the Arctic circle.
Delicious Mattak Recipe
Follow this recipe to make this Inuit delicacy at home and enjoy a taste of indigenous Greenland culture.
19. Christmas Pudding
Where it's eaten: Ireland
Christmas pudding is a staple at the holidays on Irish tables (English ones, too!). Different from American puddings, Christmas pudding is more of a sponge cake and is made of dried fruit, fruit peel, apple, citrus and brandy.
The pudding has to be made days in advance in order to let all the ingredients meld together and set to the dense confection we know it to be.
18. Buche de Noel
Where it's eaten: France
Also known as the Yule log, the Buche de Noel is a traditional Christmas cake that is particularly popular in France during the holidays. The sponge cake is shaped to resemble a Yule log and is stuffed with a sweet cream.
Its roots date back to the 19th century. Today, the Buche de Noel tradition can also be found in Switzerland, Belgium and French Canada.
Delicious Buche de Noel Recipe**
This easy, four-step recipe will yield a perfect buche de noel. As for the decoration, that's up to you.
Where it's eaten: Brazil
Typical to many other countries around the world, Brazil eats its big holiday meal on Christmas Eve. Christmas dinner is nothing in Brazil without the appearance of bacalhau, which is the traditional salted cod dish.
To make the dish, cod is soaked overnight, then seasoned and rolled into balls and deep fried. You can find this dish served at any special occasion in Brazil, especially Christmas dinner.
Delicious Bacalhau Recipe
Use this recipe for a fairly easy yet absolutely delicious Brazilian bacalhau on Christmas or any time of year.
Where it's eaten: Venezuela
Hallaca is a type of tamale that is typically served in Venezuela, especially during the Christmas season. The traditional corn dough is filled with a stew that is made of beef, pork or chicken and a slew of other ingredients. The corn packets are then boiled in banana leaves.
You can also find hallacas in Cuba, Trinidad and other parts of South America.
Where it's eaten: New Zealand
Christmas in New Zealand always ends with something sweet. And that something is typically pavlova. This Christmas cake is made with meringue and topped with whipped cream and summer berries like strawberries or blueberries.
Australia also claims ownership of this dish, and there is a long-standing dispute over which country actually invented it.
Delicious Pavlova Recipe
You don't have to be in New Zealand to make pavlovas a Christmas tradition. Try this recipe that includes a video tutorial for all the visual learners out there.
14. Puto Bumbong
Where it's eaten: Philippines
Christmas is colorful everywhere but not nearly as colorful as it is in the Philippines. That's because they eat a vibrantly colored dish at Christmas, called puto bumbong.
Made of purple rice cake, the dish is steamed in bamboo tubes and then served on banana leaves and doused in butter. Sometimes, you can find it sprinkled with sugar or grated coconut.
Delicious Puto Bumbong Recipe
You'll spend about an hour making this puto bumbong recipe, which is really nothing for the amazing return of deliciousness you get out of it.
Where it's eaten: Norway
Nothing says Christmas dinner like a giant sheep's head, right? In Norway, that is actually the truth. Smalahove translates to “sheep head” and is the typical holiday dish eaten on the Sunday before Christmas.
Alongside the head are usually sides of mashed potatoes and rutabaga. It's a controversial meal, for sure, but one that dates back deep into Norway's history.
Delicious Smalahove Recipe
Whether you grew up with this dish or are simply an adventurous eater, this recipe will guide you into making a rather tasty smalahove.
Where it's eaten: Germany
Christmas is coming, and in Germany, that means it's time to bust out recipes for the Weihnachtsgans, aka the Christmas goose. This dish is made from a roasted goose, and the tradition dates back as far as the Middle Ages.
The goose is often stuffed with apples, chestnuts and dried plums. Sides tend to include red cabbage and potato dumplings.
Delicious Weihnachtsgans Recipe
Even a culinary goose could make this easy (though time-consuming) weihnachtsgans recipe.
Where it's eaten: Finland
Come the end of December, tables across Finland are strewn with lanttulaatikko, which is a type of rutabaga casserole. No Finnish Christmas is complete without it.
The casserole is made from boiling and smashing sweetened rutabaga and mixing it up with bread crumbs, egg, butter and spices like ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg.
Delicious Lanttulaatikko Recipe
After trying this recipe, you'll be craving lanttulaatikko right until next Christmas.
10. Mince Pie
Where it's eaten: England
The United Kingdom has a lot of traditional holiday dishes, but one of the most popular is the mince pie. (It's also pretty big in Australia and New Zealand.)
Mince pies are sweet and often plumped with dried fruits and spices. History says mince pies date back to the 13th century during the time of the Crusades.
Delicious Mince Pie Recipe
This mince pie recipe will transport you right to England. Just be prepared for a cook time of over an hour.
Where it's eaten: Italy
You'll recognize this dome-shaped Christmas carb easily. Originally from Milan, supermarkets in most major cities across America are often stacked high with panettone boxes come the holiday season. It is the quintessential Italian dessert at Christmas.
It dates back to the Renaissance, and tradition dictates that you always save a slice to eat on Feb. 3 in honor of the feast of San Biagio.
Delicious Panettone Recipe
You can easily find panettone in most supermarkets. But store-bought can never compete with homemade, which is why we suggest you get baking with this delicious recipe.
Where it's eaten: Greece
In Greece, holiday time is about sitting around the table to eat many traditional foods, but the avgolemono soup is one of the most important. Avgolemono is Greek for “egg-lemon” and the dish is a soup that is made for Christmas Eve dinner.
To prepare it, egg and lemon juice is mixed with broth and thickened. Rumor has it, it’s even better the morning after a big night of drinking, so it’s no surprise this is a holiday staple.
Delicious Avgolemono Recipe
Get a true taste of the Mediterranean with this fresh and tasty avgolemono recipe that has just the right amount of zest.
Where it's eaten: Spain
One of Spain's most beloved sweets is known as turron. And while it can be eaten at any time of year, you'll find most locals indulging around Christmas.
Turron is made from honey, eggs, sugar and toasted nuts and can either be hard and flaky or more soft and caramel-esque. It dates back to the Moors, who brought the turron tradition to Spain.
Delicious Turron Recipe
We won't lie and say that making turron for the first time is easy. But you should be fine with this thorough recipe.
Where it's eaten: Ukraine
Kutya is a popular grain dish in Ukraine, but you can also find versions in Belarus and Russia. It's typically served during Christmas time, particularly as one of the essential dishes at the Ukrainian Christmas Eve supper.
The kutya is left on the table after the meal with spoons for deceased ancestors to come and share.
Delicious Kutya Recipe
If you want to go all out with your kutya, this over-five-hour recipe is really the best out there. If you want to enjoy the food without spending an entire day, you can follow this simpler recipe, which only takes an hour and 45 minutes.
Where it's eaten: China
An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but a very fancy apple is how you say “Merry Christmas” in China. Christmas is not an official day in China, but that doesn’t mean that residents are void of the Christmas spirit. Known as “peace apples,” these individual apples are packaged and wrapped in bright, decorative paper and are popular gifts around the holidays, especially between couples.
It seems the tradition started because the Chinese word for apple sounds quite similar to the word for Christmas Eve.
Delicious Apples Recipe
You don't need a recipe for the kinds of apples that Chinese people give on Christmas since they're usually bought. But if this has you in the mood for Chinese candied apples, here's a recipe that will take your apples to new levels of sweetness.
Where it's eaten: Denmark
After the Christmas Eve meal has been cleared, Danish people gather round for the most famous dessert during the holiday season — risalamande. This rice pudding is made with vanilla, almonds and whipped cream, typically topped with a warm cherry sauce.
The pudding is stuffed with chopped almonds, but it is tradition to leave one almond whole. Whoever has the serving with the whole almond in theirs wins a prize.
Delicious Risalamande Recipe
Even if you celebrate Christmas day, nothing is stopping you from enjoying some risalamande on Christmas Eve. Make the day before Christmas special with this sweet recipe.
Where it's eaten: Ethiopia
Christmas stew takes on a whole new, flavorful definition in Ethiopia. The Christmas "wat" in Ethiopia is a spicy, thick stew made from meat, vegetables and eggs.
When it comes time to enjoy, the stew is ladled onto a plate of flat, sourdough bread known as "injera." The injera is used to spoon the stew into the mouth.
Delicious Wat Recipe
Yes, you can enjoy an appetizing chicken doro wat on Christmas. This recipe will take you through the entire cooking process in only three steps.
Where it's eaten: Lithuania
Lithuania celebrates Christmas Eve with a bowl of Kuciukai. This traditional pastry dish is made from dough and poppy seeds, soaked in poppy milk or with a cranberry sauce known as Kissel.
The dish is sometimes left on the table overnight so that deceased ancestors can come partake in the Christmas Eve traditions as well.
Delicious Kuciukai Recipe
Your kuciukai will be crispy with this traditional recipe, accompanying poppyseed milk not included.
Where it's eaten: Czech Republic
Over in the Czech Republic, no Christmas meal is complete without the Vanocka. This sweet, braided bread is a beloved holiday tradition, made with rum-soaked raisins and a heavy dusting of chopped almonds.
Allegedly, the braided design of the bread is made to look like Baby Jesus wrapped in a blanket. It is best served with butter and jam, which many Czechs like to have on Christmas morning.
Delicious Vanocka Recipe
Take a break from homemade sourdough, and make some vanocka for your Christmas Eve dinner. You can enjoy the fruits of your labor in just two hours with this recipe.