It is finally that time of the year when Michael Bublé and Santa Clause are about to return from their hibernation. There are lights and colors all around, and squares are filled with wonderful markets. Most importantly, it is finally socially acceptable to play Christmas songs whenever you feel like it (even the haters can't deny that). So how do people around the world celebrate this all-time-favorite holiday?

wine, feast, turkey, meat
Camille Garcia


You simply aren't American if you are not a fan of turkey and sweet potatoes, with them being the two main dishes for both the just-passed Thanksgiving and the upcoming Christmas. Traditionally, the Christmas meal consists of a turkey (roasted or fried), a sweet potato and marshmallow casserole, cranberry sauce and stuffing (which is technically meant to be inside the meat, but is often eaten as a side).

However, there are obviously some variation. The one food symbolic of Christmas is gingerbread: from homemade or store-bought cookies in Christmas tree shapes, to masterpiece-worthy houses (check out these great ideas for decorations). As the history of this tradition goes, in the 17th century, only professional bakers were allowed to bake gingerbread all year around, with the restriction only lifted during Christmas and Easter, so it makes sense that people would associate it with these holidays.

Another sweet Christmas tradition is the candy canes, which also comes from the older times in Europe, when sugar was an expense that was treasured and saved for the holidays.

turkey, chicken, duck, goose
Morgan Goldberg

United Kingdom

Similar to the U.S. tradition, the main focus of the British Christmas dinner table is meat such as turkey, goose or Christmas ham. However, unlike in the States, British kids and adults look forward to a different set of sides – pigs in blankets (sausages wrapped in bacon), brussels sprouts, roast potatoes and hot gravy.

The reason behind having Yule ham on the table also comes from the socio-economic differences in old England. It was a poorer family’s replacement for a boar’s head that crowned the wealthy family’s table.

One of the most Christmassy desserts is the mincemeat pie (and yes, traditionally it did incorporate meat in this sweet dish). Maybe Rachel was onto something when cooking her infamous trifle on 'Friends.' This treat originally consisted of chopped up meat (which was a way to make use of the valuable leftovers) with dried fruits, sugars and spices all baked in a form of a little pie. In time, however, the recipe got rid of the meat part of the mincemeat as it became more accessible, and today's pastry consists of sweet ingredients only. 

apple pie, pie
Jocelyn Hsu


In Poland, Christmas Eve is one of the most important and awaited celebrations of the year. What makes it even more exciting is the fact that the dishes served are still only eaten during this holiday, and adults and children alike have to wait a whole year to taste their favorite Christmas cookies. 

Traditionally, Polish families sit down for Wigilia (the Christmas Eve dinner) with 12 dishes, a lot of which incorporate fish (mostly carp or herring), wild mushrooms and other vegetables, and poppy seeds for both desserts and savoury dishes.

However, one of the most famous Polish dishes is the pierogis (which can be found at most Christmas markets around this time of year). These traditionally boiled dumplings are often stuffed with cabbage or sauerkraut and dried forest mushrooms.

Another traditional Christmas food specific to Poland is kutia. This dish, consisting of roasted pęczak (pearled barley) mixed with water, raisins, nuts and poppy-seeds, has religious connotations. The wheat in it represents eternity and the honey represents the carefree lives of the saints.


Although Christmas in Russia is not as big of a national holiday as it is in most other countries–mostly due to the ban on religion during the time of the USSR–it is still celebrated by some. It is on a different day, however–Orthodox Christmas is on the 7th of January, making Christmas Eve the 6th.

Similar to the Polish tradition, the Russian custom is to have 12 dishes on this religious holiday, which comes from the 12 designated days of being holy. According to church rules, on the day of Christmas Eve, it is customary to stay away from any food until the first star (which is a tribute to the Bethlehem star that showed the Three Wise Men the way to Jesus Christ’s birth).

The two meals that are essential to a Christmas table are the sochivo and kutia. Interestingly, the two names for the day itself come from these dishes: Sochelnik, from sochivo, or Kuteinik, from kutia. Like the Polish, Russians chose wheat, honey and poppy seeds as the ingredients to be representative of resurrection, a healthy and prosperous life, and family’s wealth, respectively.

wheat, bread, bun, flour, dough, cereal, pastry, crust, poppy seed roll
Sadye Hazan


The Orthodox Greek Christmas is, as in Russia, celebrated on the 7th of January. Holiday treats include a chicken soup Avgolemono, traditional pork dishes, Yiaprakia - stuffed cabbage, and, of course, plenty of sweet desserts. One of the dishes that comes from religious traditions is the ‘Christ’s bread,’ Christopsomo. This dish originated from the Ancient Greek tradition to make sacrifices to the gods, and is decorated with a cross.

Desserts include the popular baklava, the classic Greek flaky pastry bathed in syrup and layered with cinnamon-spiced nut filling. It is made without eggs or dairy, consistent with the fast that ends on Christmas day.

Other traditional desserts include melomakarona cookies that combine the tastes of cinnamon, orange and cloves, kourabiethes (sugared shortbread cookies, often made with almonds or other nuts), and karythorita walnut spice cake.

sauce, cake, sweet, syrup, honey, pastry, baklava, Greece, Greek food, European food
Julia Gilman


One of the most unusual, and yet quite famous, traditions of Christmas food comes from Japan. A highly Americanized culture, on Christmas Eve, Japanese families sit down to enjoy buckets of Coronel Sanders’ chicken! This tradition stems from the ingenious marketing campaign by KFC in 1970, back when Japan didn’t have any Christmas traditions. And now, to secure the beloved chicken meal for the day, people have to make their orders as early as two months in advance. Of course, the meal is not limited to just chicken–it also includes the Japanese Christmas cake, a moist, airy and light strawberry and sponge layered cake with whipped cream.


Unlike the tradition of eating 12 grapes on New Year’s Eve for good luck, on Christmas, Spanish families’ food traditions tend to vary depending on the region. In Galicia, an area in the North-West of Spain, the most common food genre for the Nochebuena (Christmas Eve) is seafood. Although king prawns are most popular, the dishes vary from the little molluscs to the crabs and lobsters. Another traditional Spanish Christmas dish is turkey (what a surprise, right?) stuffed with mushroom truffles.  Serrano hams and wine often compliment the main meal.

Another important part of the Christmas table is, of course, dessert. From cakes and cookies, to nougat and marzipan, the Spaniards are not afraid to put on a little bit of holiday weight for the sake of yummy desserts. One of the exclusively Christmassy desserts is the Rosca de los Reyos, a ring-shaped home-baked bread decorated with jellies and meant to be a tribute to the Three Wise Men. Interestingly, it is usually eaten on the 6th of January, which is believed to be the Three Kings’ day, since the Spanish Christmas celebrations stretch from the 22nd of December (when the big lottery unfolds) until the 6th of January (the arrival of Los Reyos Magos).

seafood, lobster, fish
Rachel Wine


Nigeria being a former British colony, it is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in Africa. About 40% of the population does not practice Christianity, but follow either Islam or hold other traditional beliefs. Nevertheless, Christmas is a massive celebration and an opportunity for the whole family to get together. As with many of the holidays, one of the main dishes on the Christmas table is a variation of rice–jollof rice, or in some cases, fried rice. Other Nigerian Christmas foods are also usually just variations of everyday meals, such as fried plantains, moin moin (a dish with beans blended together with other ingredients and then cooked in banana leaves), and stews.

For dessert, apart from the traditional Western treats such as cakes and cookies, on Christmas Eve, Nigerians enjoy puff puffs (deep fried dough balls) and chin chins (a popular snack made of flour, milk and sugar) that can be crunchy or hard, depending on the ratio of the ingredients.


Also a former colony, Brazil’s Christmas traditions are in ways quite similar to those of Portugal, as well as the UK and USA. However, unlike in the U.S., Brazilian Christmas takes place in the heat of the summer, with many people choosing to celebrate on the beach.

Like many other countries, meat is often the main dish on the table, including ham, pork, and turkey, with sides such as salads and both fresh and dried fruit. Rice is also a very common part of the Christmas meal, traditionally cooked with raisins and often a tablespoon of Farofa (seasoned manioc flour). However, since Brazil is quite diverse, you can often find traditional treats from other countries on the tables in different regions, such as the Italian pannettone or the Portuguese salted cod.

The meal usually starts at about 10pm on Christmas Eve and concludes with sweet dishes such as Pudim de Natal (Christmas pudding), Bolo de Nozes (walnut cake covered with egg yolk threads and whipped cream), and Rabanada (the Brazilian version of the French toast), usually made from wheat bread and coated in sugar and/or cinnamon and honey.