Though Christmas may be celebrated differently around the globe, there’s one festive tradition that is shared the world over – dinner. Be it roast turkey with all the trimmings, spicy meat stew, grilled seafood or even Kentucky Fried Chicken, ‘tis the season for feasting. Here are nine traditional Christmas meals to truly whet your appetite.
Traditional UK Christmas dinner
Christmas dinner in the UK is all about the gut-busting roast. This typically consists of roast turkey – chicken and goose are also popular choices – served with all the trimmings, from stuffing, roast potatoes, parsnips and Brussels sprouts to pigs in blankets (mini sausages wrapped in bacon) and devils on horseback (dates wrapped in bacon). All of this is washed down with lashings of gravy, a dollop of cranberry jelly and a healthy scoop of bread sauce.
Regional variations include the addition of spiced beef and soda bread in Ireland, and clootie dumplings (fruit pudding) for dessert in Scotland.
Enjoy mezze dishes of lamb in Lebanon
Alongside the turkey or chicken (traditionally stuffed with spiced rice), the Lebanese Christmas food fest features a range of national foods: kibbeh pie made from bulgur wheat and minced meat; mezze dishes of lamb, hummus and vegetables; and tabbouleh, a Middle Eastern salad made with tomatoes, parsley, onions and mint.
The post-WWI French administration of Lebanon has left its mark on the Christmas dinner in the form of the Bûche de Noël (yule log) dessert. Sugar-coated almonds are also a very popular sweet snack to share among Christmas guests.
Festive drinks from around the world to enjoy
Savour a spicy feast during Christmas in Ethiopia
One of the oldest nations in Africa, Ethiopia still follows the Julian calendar, so Christmas falls on 7 January. In the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Ganna (Christmas celebrations) involves a period of fasting on Christmas Eve (6 January), followed by an early mass on Christmas morning.
When fast is broken on Christmas Day, it is with a traditional meal of wat, a spicy meat and vegetable dish served with a type of sourdough flatbread called injera that is used as a plate-turned-edible-spoon to scoop up the thick stew.
Celebrate Christmas in Japan with a bucket of KFC
While Christmas Day is not a national holiday in Japan, people still celebrate by getting into the spirit of giving and spreading happiness. And what could be more joyful than sharing a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken with your loved ones? Thanks to a very successful media campaign by KFC in 1974, fried chicken is now a staple of the Japanese Christmas experience – it’s so popular, in fact, that branches have to take orders many months in advance.
Another festive export is the Japanese Christmas cake; a lighter take on the stodgy puds of the West, it is made up of a sponge topped with cream and decked-out with strawberries.
Lychees are a holiday treat in Madagascar
Christmas is truly a time for family in Madagascar. Come 25 December, families don their best clothes and join together en masse for a delicious dinner of pork or chicken with rice – mouthwatering variations include Akoho sy Voanio, a chicken and coconut stew, and Akoho misy Sakamalao, chicken cooked with garlic and ginger.
Lychees are considered a special Christmas treat in Madagascar, so expect to see plenty of these little pink fruits decking out shop displays and street stalls at this time of year.
Fill your belly with stollen in Brazil
Not one for downplaying festivities, Brazil’s Ceia de Natal (Christmas dinner) is a veritable banquet served late on Christmas Eve. Turkey – often decorated with local fruits – is served alongside a plethora of accompaniments like ham, garlicky kale, salted cod, salada de maionese (potato salad with raisins and apple slices), farofa (seasoned and toasted cassava flour), rice and nuts.
When it comes to dessert, Italian and German influences mean that panettone (Italian sweet bread) and stollen (a German fruit cake) wouldn’t be out of place among the tropical fare. Rabanada is also a favourite festive pudding in Brazil – a variation on French toast, slightly stale bread is dipped in eggs and milk and fried, before being covered in sugar, cinnamon and a spiced-port syrup.
Steaks and prawns on the barbie in Australia
It’s summertime Down Under, so Aussies fire up the barbecues in preparation for their Christmas spreads. It varies from region to region, but popular choices for the grill include steaks, chicken and seafood such as prawns, lobster and crayfish.
Traditional foods from the northern hemisphere like ham, turkey and chicken may make an appearance, sometimes served cold. The whole event is rounded off with a generous serving of pavlova, a baked meringue nest filled with whipped cream and decorated with fruits like kiwi, strawberries and passionfruit.
A sweet lovers dream in Iceland
Cookies and cakes abound at Christmas time in Iceland, with many households outdoing themselves with festive bakes. Icelanders further prove their culinary (and artistic) skills by frying up laufabrauð (leaf bread), a wafer-thin bread decorated with intricately cut patterns and shapes.
The pièce de résistance of the Icelandic Christmas dinner is typically hangikjöt (smoked lamb) and sometimes rjúpa (a type of sea bird) and in recent years even reindeer has graced the plates of Iceland – poor old Rudolph, eh?
Christmas buffets are a popular affair in Iceland this time of year, serving up lots of seasonal grub and traditional dishes such as pickled herring, cured salmon, reindeer pâté and smoked puffin.
Dine on lechon in the Philippines
In the Philippines, the main Christmas feast is the Noche Buena, held late on Christmas Eve. This meal with Hispanic roots consists of lechon (roasted pig), queso de bola (Edam cheese), various pasta dishes – and for dessert, fruit served with condensed milk or coconut cream. Tsokolate (hot chocolate) is another ubiquitous staple and, bizarrely, a slightly sweet version of spaghetti with tomato sauce has made it on to the Filipino Yuletide table in recent years.
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This article was originally published in December 2016 and updated in November 2020.