From lyrics in holiday songs to our own family traditions, it’s clear food plays a big role at Christmas!
Local foods, family traditions and personal finances are factors in what foods we choose to eat, so “traditional” Christmas foods may not look the same in every household or country.
Here’s a look at a few foods that are popular in different countries during Christmastime.
Mincemeat pies, or mince pies, have been served since the Middle Ages. However, today’s version looks very different from those eaten 600 years ago. During the Middle Ages, the pies were primarily a mixture of minced game meat, lamb or beef with dried fruits and spices. While meat is typically left out of the mix these days, some recipes contain suet, a type of animal fat.
Tamales are a favorite for those celebrating Christmas in Mexico, as well as several other countries in Central and South America. Tamales consist of a masa harina dough and are stuffed with a variety of fillings, including cheese, beans, vegetables or meat. They’re wrapped in a corn husk and steamed before eating. The entire process can take hours, and it’s not uncommon for family members to work together to assemble tamales.
Other popular Christmas dishes include turkey in mole sauce and pozole — a type of broth-based soup that may be topped with garnishes such as lime, radish and lettuce. Bacalao (dried salt cod) is another dish you may find in homes or at market stands, served in either a tomato sauce or as a sandwich.
Like the bacalao eaten in Mexico, Italians enjoy a variation of the dish known as baccalà, which is pan-fried. Geography plays a role in regional food choices, with fish being popular in the southern part of the country. Italian-American culture has been influenced by this fish-eating tradition, with the Festa Dei Sette Pesci, or Feast of the Seven Fishes, celebrated on Christmas Eve.
Panettone and pandoro are popular sweets eaten during the Christmas season. Panettone is a dome-shaped cake similar to brioche in texture but filled with candied fruit and raisins. It’s not uncommon to buy it rather than make it at home, as it takes at least 30 hours for the dough to rise. Pandoro is baked in an eight-point star-shaped pan, said to be modeled after the mountains in Verona, and may have fillings like lemon or chocolate cream or be plain and dusted with powdered sugar.
Christmas Eve celebrations in the Philippines wouldn’t be complete without the Noche Buena, meaning “good night,” feast, traditionally eaten after midnight mass or before Christmas Day. The amount of food and what is served can vary from home to home, but two popular foods include lechon (roasted pig) and queso de bola (a ball of Edam cheese). More elaborate feasts may include spring rolls, paella or pasta and fruit salad.
A popular breakfast option is bibingka, a rice-flour cake made with coconut milk. It may be served with toppings including grated coconut, melted cheese or a duck egg.
Seafood, particularly oysters, are not an uncommon choice for Christmas Eve in France. Some popular ways to eat them are grilled or on the half shell.
The well-known yule log, or Bûche de Noël, is a sponge cake baked into one thin layer, spread with a filling such as frosting or whipped cream, then carefully rolled into a log and decorated, many with design elements such as meringue mushrooms or fresh herbs.
Other popular foods include fresh and dried fruits and fougasse, an olive oil flatbread.
In the western state of Goa, popular foods eaten at Christmastime may include bebinca, a type of layer cake made of coconut milk pancakes, and sorpotel, a popular pork curry made with cumin, chiles and cinnamon that is served on Christmas Eve.
While many Christian faiths and governments observe Christmas Day on December 25, Orthodox faiths follow a different calendar. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church observes Christmas on January 7.
Prior to Christmas, followers observe a 40-day vegan fast, refraining from all animal-based foods. On Christmas, a popular food to break this fast with is doro wat, a type of stew made with a rich red sauce and served with the spongy flatbread injera. Rooster is a popular protein choice in the doro wat on this special day.
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