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Christmas dinner traditions from around the world

Dec. 25, 2021
6 min read
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Ever tire of the usual roast turkey with all the trimmings? According to a YouGov poll, 10 million turkeys are consumed on Christmas Day in the U.K.

It is said that the tradition of eating turkey began after Henry VIII started scarfing it at Christmas, and it was also made popular by being referenced by Charles Dickens in his book “A Christmas Carol.”

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However, turkey isn’t the food of choice for everyone — various countries have different culinary traditions, from a bucket of fried chicken to salted cod to curried goat. Below, we show you different traditions around the globe.

Sweden

Swedes tend to celebrate similarly to other Nordic countries. The menu is smorgasbord-style, with a julbord — or buffet. Typical dishes include pickled herring, cold cuts of different meats, sausage and meatballs, red beet salad, cheese and cabbage.

(Photo courtesy of Lisa’s Bar & Kitchen)

Poland

Usually, Christmas dinner (Wiglia) is a meat-free affair and happens on Christmas Eve. People break wafers with one another before tucking into dishes such as red beetroot borscht, dumplings, cabbage rolls, carp, herring, pierogi and braised sauerkraut. For dessert, there is usually gingerbread, poppyseed cake and dried fruit.

Japan

Japan doesn’t have a traditional Christmas by any means. In 1970, the first KFC fast-food chain opened in Nagoya, where the owner sold a “‘party barrel,” similar to the traditional Christmas turkey dinner. This proved so popular that now orders have to be made two months in advance.

(Photo by Taro Karibe/Getty Images)

Venezuela

Venezuelans have a tradition of serving hallaca, which takes a long time to prepare. It’s a meat dish that typically includes pork and chicken with raisins, olives, capers and onions folded together in corn dough and wrapped in a banana leaf.

Germany

Medieval tradition saw Germans fasting between St Martin’s Day on Nov. 11 and Christmas, breaking their fast with goose — leading to it being the traditional bird on Christmas Day. Goose is usually served with spaetzle (a type of pasta), knodel (dumplings) and red cabbage. Gingerbread cookies called lebkuchen are generally on offer for dessert.

(Photo by Travelpix Ltd/Getty Images)

Jamaica

Christmas dinner consists of curried goat, stewed oxtail, fruits, meat and punch, all prepared the night before. Dessert can be rum cake with brandy custard.

France

The French have a similar dinner to the U.K. and a traditional dessert called buche de Noel, a version of the yule log. It looks like an actual log and is made from sponge cake and chocolate buttercream.

Boulangerie Jade Christmas Yule Log
(Photo courtesy of Boulangerie Jade)

Brazil

Brazilians have a feast on Christmas Eve, which continues into the early hours of Christmas Day. Bacalhau (salted cod) is usually served alongside a roasted chicken with palm heart stew and cassava salad dishes.

Italy

Italy is divided when it comes to traditions. Southern Italians and Italian Americans have what is known as the “Feast of the Seven Fishes.” This is seven different fish dishes served in soups, pasta, starters and mains. Meanwhile, those from the Piedmont region near Switzerland celebrate with pasta filled with meat, known as agnolotti, while Romans have a fish-based soup known as minestra di pesce. A common tradition shared throughout Italy is panettone — a sweet bread with sultana raisins, candied oranges and other dried fruits.

(Photo by Peter Williams/Getty Images)

Spain

Traditional Christmas meals in Spain consist of various tapas dishes, including a seafood soup before the main course of fish and lamb. Turron, a nougat mix of honey, sugar, egg whites and almonds, is a tradition for dessert.

Puerto Rico

Roast suckling pig is traditional in Puerto Rican households, and is slow-cooked and served with a coconut rice pudding called tembleque, meat pastries called pasteles and coquito, which is similar to eggnog with a coconut taste.

Peru

Like in Puerto Rico and many other South American countries, roast suckling pig is a big part of the Christmas feast. Peruvians also include paneton, similar to the Italian bread, and a spiced hot chocolate made with cloves and cinnamon, which is enjoyed at chocolatadas, events where family and friends gather to celebrate.

Philippines

Christmas dinner is known as Noche Buena in the Philippines. Celebration dishes include puto bumbong (a sweet black and white rice with shredded coconut), buko pandan (pandan-flavored gelatin mixed with coconut and cream), lechon (spit-roasted pig), queso de bola (cheese balls) and lumpia (spring rolls).

(Photo by Pacific Press/Getty Images)

Greece

Many people fast before the Christmas meal in Greece. The first meal is usually avgolemono, a chicken and rice soup with egg yolk and lemon. Pork with cabbage is also on offer with Christopsomo (Christ’s bread), baklava and melomakarona for dessert — a cookie made with cinnamon, cloves and orange in syrup with nuts.

Lithuania

Kucios is a Lithuanian Christmas dinner, which is served on Christmas Eve. Twelve dishes are usually presented to represent each apostle. The menu contains no meat or dairy and is cold. Typically on the menu are many herring salads, smoked eel, sauerkraut, mushrooms and kuciukai (small cookies with poppy seeds).

Bottom line

Christmas dinner doesn't have to be boring and predictable. If you’re not hosting at home (and even if you are), take some inspiration from around the world and gorge on something different.

Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
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    For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

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  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
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  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
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  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases