Every family has their unique holiday traditions, some more conventional than others. My Italian family has both turkey and lasagna on Thanksgiving and one of my friends looks forward to eating tripe every Christmas.
But generally holiday traditions, and especially meals, are influenced by your nationality and the resources that have been traditionally available in your region. Some of these unusual (but awesome) traditions make my family’s yearly struggle of choosing which pie to make seem pretty mundane. Here are some menus of traditional Christmas dinners from around the world.
- Ensalada de Noche Buena (Mexican Christmas salad)
- Bacalao with Tomato Sauce (salted dried codfish)
- Turkey with Mole
- Ponche Navideño (hot fruit punch)
In Mexico, the traditional meal is eaten late on Christmas Eve. The dishes bring out the spicy flavors characteristic of Latin American cuisine and incorporate seasonal foods such as pomegranate seeds and tejocotes (Mexican hawthorn that look like crab apples but with a unique favor).
Because turkey is indigenous to Mexico, it is typically the main dish served with mole, a sauce made of ground chilies. The meal is finished off with buñuelos, a fried dessert similar to a tostada that is sprinkled with sugar. After eating, you make a wish and throw your plate on the ground to bring good luck to the next year.
- Barbecued Prawns and Lobster
- Roasted Turkey
- Grilled Vegetables
- Plum Pudding
Christmas in Australia falls during the summer, so many people combine a traditional English meal with a classic Australian barbecue. The meal varies a lot by region, with some opting for more seafood (like Barramundi fish and oysters) while others stick to the more traditional roasts. When the meal begins, everyone opens their Christmas crackers, puts on a paper hat, and tries to forget about the heat.
- Humarsupa (similar to lobster bisque with lobster shells)
- Lightly Smoked Puffin with Mushroom Sauce
- Hangikjot (smoked lamb)
- Pickled Beetroot
- Caramel-Glazed Potatoes
- Jolagratur (rice pudding with raisins, cinnamon, and sugar)
Because most people live near the ocean, many Icelandic dishes include seafood, and because the cold climate is not conducive to growing produce most of the year, many foods are dried or pickled. Þorláksmessa is celebrated on December 23 to honor Iceland’s patron saint Saint Thorlak and as part of this celebration, it is traditional to serve fermented skate (a ray-like fish).The smell of this pungent fish can stick around for days so the hangikjot is boiled the next day to help eliminate the smell.
The Christmas meal is served on the 24th. Reindeer is also a traditional main course but is typically avoided by families with small children because it could lead to an awkward conversation about Santa’s transportation.
- Bacalao (yes, it’s popular in Italy too)
- Pan-Seared Squid and Lemony Aioli
- Grilled Shrimp with Chile, Cilantro, and Lime
- Spaghetti with Clams
- Cazcuico (tomato-based fish stew)
- Grapefruit Sorbetto
If you don’t like seafood, Christmas in Italy is not the dinner for you. The Feast of the Seven Fishes is eaten on Christmas Eve and some families actually serve as many as 12 seafood dishes to honor the 12 Apostles. Delicacies such as eel and octopus are common. Meat dishes such as il cotchino, sausage made from pig’s intestine, are typically included at the Christmas Day meal.
Yep, KFC as in Kentucky Fried Chicken. Although only about 1% of Japanese celebrate Christmas, KFC records its highest sales each Christmas Eve. This relatively new tradition began in 1974 when KFC began its “Christmas Chicken” campaign. Because it is so popular, people have to make reservations for a Christmas bucket and some wait in line for up to two hours.
- Mince Pies
- Yellow Rice and Raisins
- Grilled Vegetables
- Malva Pudding
Because South Africa was a British colony, many English Christmas traditions were adopted by South Africans and remain in place today. However, because it is summer, it is common for much of the meal to be grilled and eaten outside. The meal is typically finished off with a South African favorite, Malva pudding, which is a spongy cake with apricot jam served with a creamy custard sauce.
- Oplatky Wafer Crackers with Garlic, Honey, and Walnuts
- Kapustnica (sauerkraut soup with mushrooms, spices, and apples or plums)
- Fried Fish
- Potato Salad
- Honey and Spice Tea Cookies
The Christmas meal is known as the “velija” and originally consisted of 12 dishes but now most families only eat about half of the courses. Slovakia has one of the more unusual holiday traditions regarding their main course. Carp is so central to Christmas in eastern Europe that families will buy one a few days before Christmas and keep it alive in their bathtub, removing it to shower, of course.
On the morning of Christmas Eve, they kill the fish and prepare it to be cooked the following day. Assorted Christmas cookies round out the meal and some families make up to 10 different kinds so that they always have something to give even the pickiest of visitors.