Everyone celebrates Christmas and New Year's differently, but some traditions are more odd than others. Here is a list of some of the more unique and odd holiday food traditions to get a taste of how other countries celebrate the holidays. 

1. Japan

In Japan, Christmas is not a national holiday, but in recent years it has become a popular non-religious time of celebration. Gifts are exchanged, lights are hung and fried chicken is eaten. Oddly enough, the meal of choice for Christmas in Japan is Kentucky Fried Chicken. There are several theories as to how this came to be a national custom, one is a successful advertising campaign by KFC, “Kentucky for Christmas”; another is that when Americans visited for the holidays, the closest they could get to a turkey dinner was KFC’s fried chicken and then locals caught on to the trend. But which came first: the fried chicken, or the egg?

2. Switzerland

cream, milk, bread, dairy product, flour, batter
Ishaan Pathak

In Switzerland, festivities start at the beginning of Advent. In the US, we think of Advent as the calendars with windows marked 1 through 24 that reveal a treat for each day in December, but Advent can begin anywhere from November 27th to December 3rd depending on the year. There are Christmas markets, light displays and parades such as Trychler (cow bell). People parade through the streets with big cow bells around their necks, making noise to scare away evil spirits. As for food, fondue is a popular party meal. People sit around a pot of cheese-wine mixture  dipping bits of bread. The Swiss call this “Figugegl” which translates to: fondue is good and gives a good mood. Just make sure not to drop your bread in the pot, or else you must turn to the person to your left and give ‘em a big ‘ole kiss (or pay for the next round of drinks).

3. Spain

grape, berry, pasture, wine, juice
Julia Roccanova

In España, Christmas is celebrated with a big Christmas Eve meal, usually of turkey stuffed with trifle or various fish dishes, followed by midnight Mass and music playing through the night. On December 28th, Spaniards take part in their version of April Fools called “dia de los santos inocentes” or Day of the Innocent Saints, to honor the babies killed per King Herod’s orders in an attempt to kill baby Jesus. But perhaps the most unique holiday tradition is on New Year’s Eve, where grapes serve as a midnight snack. As the clock chimes to bring in the new year, it is custom to eat 12 grapes, one for each month of the new year. Called “The 12 Grapes of Luck,” you must pop one grape in your mouth at each clock chime; however, it is also popular to make an eating contest out of it. When midnight hits, you stuff your face with as many grapes as you can before the clock chimes stop–whoever eats the most wins!

4. China

In China, less than 1% of the population are Christian, so Christmas isn’t widely celebrated. However, a tradition that is becoming increasingly popular is exchanging apples on Christmas Eve. These are called “Peace Apples” and came to be because the word for Christmas Eve in Mandarin “pinganye” sounds similar to the word for apple “pinggue”. Of course, Chinese New Year is the more popular holiday in China. The traditional foods eaten on this holiday each serve a certain significance for the upcoming year. Long noodles are served to symbolize longevity, dumplings and spring rolls symbolize wealth, and tangerines and oranges symbolize fullness.

5. Germany

It’s no surprise that the home of Oktoberfest has several beloved festive drinks to accompany Christmas and the holiday season. In Germany, classic mulled wine, or Glühwein, is a must and is served in special mugs at outdoor Christmas markets and big town squares. Another take on this mulled wine includes high proof rum and fire, called Fire Tong Punch or “Feuerzangenbowle.” Made popular from the movie Die Feuerzangenbowle, this is a relatively new tradition since the film's release in 1943 and is popular among young Germans. Who wouldn’t want to drink fire, right?

chocolate, cream, chips
Elise Webster

In addition to alcohol, Germans love their rich pastries. For centuries, Germans have been enjoying the traditional baked treat, Christmas Stollen, which is known as a dense and decadent loaf with bits of fruit and marzipan on top. However, the original Stollen was not as tasty as it is today due to the Vatican’s ban on butter and milk during Advent. In the 1400s it was quite bland, made with just flour, yeast, water and oil; it was made to represent and visually resemble a swaddled baby Jesus. Later, there was a lift on these rules specifically for this traditional pastry, where master bakers would be allowed to use milk and butter after penance, receiving God’s blessing and paying a butter fine. But any Stollen you get today will be rich, sugary, and filled with butter.

6. Mexico

Holiday celebrations in Mexico start on December 16th with Las Posadas. On each of the nine nights leading up to Christmas Eve, there is a Posada party. At these parties there is a large feast, and pinatas are the center of attention for little ones. On the ninth night, Christmas Eve, it is customary to eat a special cake called “Rosca de Reyes,” or the “Three Kings Cake,” where a small baby Jesus figurine is hidden inside the cake. Whoever gets the baby Jesus slice is said to fill the role of “Godparent” for the upcoming year.

Other Mexican holiday traditions are more specific to different cities or pueblos. Perhaps one of the most unusual traditions is the Night of the Radish Festival in the city of Oaxaca. The festival is held on December 23rd where radishes are carved and shaped into sculptures. In the evening, the most intricate root creations compete head-to-head and their artists are crowned. On the 24th, floats displaying the beautiful vegetable figures parade the streets.

7. Italy

In the land of pizza and prosciutto, it is customary to nix the dairy and meat for Christmas. Italians instead eat fish, and lots of it! On Christmas Eve, it is traditional to eat many different kinds of fish for “Festa dei Sette Pesci” which means Feast of Seven Fishes. Cod, oysters and eel, oh my! For dessert, they often enjoy a spongy fruit cake or “Pannettone” with a mug of hot chocolate when they return from Mass.

8. Australia

With Christmas falling in the beginning of summer, Aussies have the luxury of having a hot, sunny Christmas. Instead of warm meals and drinks, in effort to keep cool, Australia puts spin on holiday foods: cold turkey, lobster and plum pudding with a cold custard. In true Aussie spirit, the big meal is often a barbeque-styled lunch with refreshing salads, fresh fruit and even ice cream. 

No matter where you are from, food is one of the ways cultures from all of the world come together to celebrate the holidays. So, happy holidays, grab a fork (or a spoon), and get eating!