Traditional Holiday Dishes From Around the World

Christmas Dinner


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Christmas Dinner

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Throughout history and throughout the world, cultures have celebrated festivals around the time of the December solstice, the longest night of the year in the Northern Hemisphere and the longest day in the Southern Hemisphere. In America, the two best-known December holidays are probably Christmas and Hanukkah, though Christians and Jews across the world often mark these occasions with different foods from those served at U.S. celebrations. And other cultures have their own solstice festivals, with different delicious foods likely at each one.

Here's a list of foods and beverages you might be offered if you celebrated throughout the world this December, with links to recipes to make yourself. (Cooking on a budget this year? You'll want to remember these Budget-Friendly Christmas Dinner Entrees.)

Related: Foods Americans Miss Out On

Galette Des Rois, France

Galette Des Rois (France)

On Jan. 6, Epiphany Day commemorates the day the Three Kings (aka les rois) visited the infant Jesus. The French celebrate the occasion with Galette des Rois, a flaky cake with sugary, buttery almond filling that's as much a party game as it is a pastry: Baked into the batter is a small trinket called a "feve," and whoever discovers it in their slice gets to wear a paper crown and play king or queen for the night.

Recipe: Serious Eats

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Lechon (Philippines)

The Spanish-language word "lechon" literally translates to "piglet," and most Spanish-speaking countries have "lechon" dishes involving some preferred manner of cooking pork — but in the Philippines, which spent several centuries as a Spanish colonial possession, the word is more likely to refer to the traditional feast dish of an entire roasted suckling pig (complete with an apple in its mouth). Traditionally, the Philippine Christmas lechon is slow-roasted over a charcoal pit, though Americans who lack that particular amenity could make do with a small pig and a large backyard barbecue grill.

Recipe: MyRecipes

Related: Traditional Hispanic Foods Most Americans Don't Know About (but Should)

Kentucky Fried Chicken

Kentucky Fried Chicken (Japan)

American-style Christmas is very trendy to celebrate in Japan, but not as a religious holiday or a family-centric day. It's more like a romantic or party holiday (imagine a cross between Valentine's Day and New Year's Eve), and the most popular Christmas food in Japan is Kentucky Fried Chicken, thanks to a 1974 marketing campaign urging people to try "Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!" — Kentucky for Christmas — allegedly after some foreign visitors to Japan bought KFC on Christmas Day when they couldn't find the traditional American turkey. In Japan, it's recommended to pre-order Christmas chicken, since the wait at KFC branches can be more than two hours on Dec. 25.

Related: Fast-Food Menu Items You'll Only Find Abroad


Speculaas (Netherlands / Belgium)

Speculaas are sweet and spicy ginger cookies that are part of traditional Christmas feasts in Belgium and the Netherlands. Though the dough recipe is fairly simple to put together, making speculaas requires specialized equipment: cookie molds called "springerle," molded in shapes of characters or scenes from Sinter Klass (Santa Claus) stories.

Recipe: Martha Stewart


Patacones (Colombia)

Fried latkes (potato pancakes) are a staple at almost every American Hanukkah feast. But in Colombia, you're likely instead to find patacones: green plantains that are sliced and fried in oil. Nor are they limited to Jewish holidays; patacones are a popular side dish in many Colombian restaurants.

Recipe: Mother Would Know

Related: The Best Fried Foods Around the World


Mulled Wine / Glühwein (Germany/Austria)

This mulled "glowing wine" — the literal translation of glühwein — is a staple at the Christmas markets in German cities each Yuletide. It's often sold like beer in beer gardens: When you buy a drink, you pay a deposit in addition to the cost of the beverage, then either return the ceramic mug for a refund or keep it as a souvenir. Though every family has their own best recipe for glühwein, what most have in common is that the spiced, heated red wine is sweetened with a combination of sugar and citrus juices.

Recipe: Allrecipes

Related: Great-Tasting Red Wines Under $20

St. Lucia's Wreath

St. Lucia's Wreath (Scandinavia)

The Feast of St. Lucia (or St. Lucy's Day) kicks off the advent season in Scandinavian traditions. According to legend, when Christians were still a persecuted Roman minority, St. Lucia brought food to Christians hiding in the catacombs while wearing a candlelit wreath atop her head to light her way — leaving her hands free to carry more food. Scandinavians today celebrate St. Lucia's Day with a variety of celebratory foods including a St. Lucia's Wreath, a glazed, sweetened bread decorated with candles and colorful ribbons.

Recipe: Food.

Laufabrauð by Brian Suda (CC BY)

Laufabrauð / Leafbread (Iceland)

Icelandic laufabrauð or "leafbread" (sometimes called "snowflake bread" in English) is a traditional sugary Christmas bread or cookie made very thin because, traditionally, wheat flour was too expensive for Icelanders to afford very much. The "leaf" or "snowflake" name comes from the geometric patterns cut into the thin dough before it is deep-fried.

Recipe: Saveur

Related: Here's How to Visit Iceland Without Spending a Fortune

Rum Fruitcake

Rum Fruitcake (Caribbean Nations)

Christmas fruitcake has a bad reputation in America, though the mass-produced (and possibly stale and regifted) versions from workplace Secret Santas shouldn't be held against fresh cakes baked according to traditional recipes. In sugar-growing countries throughout the Caribbean, cakes made with rum dough or at least rum-soaked fruits are popular Christmas desserts, partly as a matter of expediency: In the days before refrigeration, sugar and alcohol made from sugar were vital in preserving foods that otherwise would go bad quickly in the hot, humid climates where sugarcane grows.



Fesenjan (Iran)

Iranians celebrate the winter solstice with the festival of Shab-e Yalda or Yalda Night, which has its roots in old Persian Zoroastrian traditions. On this longest night of the year, people would gather with family and friends and endeavor to stay awake all night as protection from evil spirits that might be about. The next day was spent celebrating victory over the darkness. One popular Shab-e Yalda dish is fesenjan, a chicken stew flavored with pomegranates.

Recipes: Simply Recipes


Stollen (Germany)

Stollen is a German Christmas bread — more like a spicy sugar-covered fruitcake — whose origins date back to medieval times. Back then, stollen were rather tasteless hard pastries served during Lent, when the consumption of milk and butter were forbidden. Stollen started its slow evolution into today's rich treat back in 1490, after the pope himself lifted the Lenten-season butter ban.

Recipe: Taste of Home

Doro Wat

Doro Wat on Injera Sponge Bread (Ethiopia)

Doro wat is a spicy Ethiopian chicken curry served at Christmas on injera sponge-platter bread. (Doro wat is also a popular Hanukkah dish among Ethiopian Jews.)

Recipe: CDKitchen

Yule Log

Bûche De Noël (France)

Bûche De Noël is a French Christmas cake whose name means "Yule log." It's usually a chocolate cake baked in the shape of a log and dusted with confectioner's sugar to call to mind white snow on a fallen log.

Recipe: Mon Petit Four

Hojuelas by Snebtor (CC BY-NC)

Hojuelas (Colombia)

Hojuelas are sweet fried Colombian pastries, usually made of dough flavored with orange juice and traditionally served at Christmas. The Spanish word "hojuela" literally means "flake," and the Spanish-language saying "miel sobre hojuelas" (honey on flakes) is equivalent to the English phrase "the icing on the cake."

Recipe: My Colombian Recipes

Krusciki by feministjulie (CC BY-NC-ND)

Krusciki / Angel Wings (Poland)

Krusciki, or "angel wings" (also called "bow-tie fritters" due to their shape), are sugary fried doughnuts traditionally served at Polish Christmas celebrations. They're also popular during the Polish equivalent of Mardi Gras, as a way to use up fat and other foods forbidden during Lent.

Recipe: Saveur

Tang Yuan

Tang Yuan (China)

In China, the winter solstice celebration is called Dong Zhi ("winter arrives"). One traditional Dong Zhi food is tang yuan, boiled balls of sweet glutinous rice flour wrapped around a black sesame filling.

Recipe: The Woks of Life


Pavlova (New Zealand)

In Southern Hemisphere countries where Christmas is a summer rather than winter holiday, traditional dishes are often lighter than heavy northern cold-weather fare. In New Zealand, a fluffy meringue dessert called pavlova is popular for celebratory events — it's not uncommon for New Zealand children to get birthday pavlovas instead of birthday cakes — and it's a popular dessert at Christmas feasts, too. The "original" New Zealand pavlova recipe calls for the meringue to be topped with sliced kiwi fruit, though there are near-countless variants using different fruits, chocolate, and other sweet additions.

Recipes: New Zealand Herald


Sfenj (Morocco)

Sfenj is the Arabic word for sponge and also the name of a fried sweetened orange-flavored doughnut popular in Morocco. Jaffa oranges come into season around this time of year, which meant oranges would have been available even in the days when fresh fruit was available only in season rather than year-round. Moroccan Jews will often have sfenj in lieu of the regular sufganiyot Hanukkah jelly doughnuts.

Recipe: The Spruce Eats

Pulique by Javier Aroche (CC BY)

Pulique (Chichicastenango, Guatemala)

Every year, the small Guatemalan highland village of Chichicastenango hosts its famous Festival de Santo Tomas, a mid-December festival combining Catholic traditions honoring St. Thomas with old Mayan solstice festivals honoring the sun god. Common foods served during the festival include elaborate chicken dishes (only fairly recently in historic terms did chicken downgrade from "expensive delicacy" to "affordable everyday meat"). Pulique is a popular Guatemalan chicken recipe similar to a dish once popular with the Mayans.

Recipe: Allrecipes

aleksandr yakovlev/istockphoto

Julbord including Lussekatter (Sweden)

"Julbord" is a Swedish buffet-style Christmas Eve feast consisting mainly of "cold" foods, such as sliced meats and fish, cheese, and pickles. Swedes kick off the advent season with St. Lucia Day on Dec. 13, when it's traditional to have "St. Lucia buns," sweetened buns flavored with saffron. The buns appear at other festive Swedish occasions and would make a welcome addition to a Julbord feast (though lussekatter are said to taste best when served warm).

Recipe: The Spruce Eats

Kabocha Soup

Kabocha Soup (Japan)

The Japanese winter solstice festival is called Toji. Most traditional Toji dishes are made with kabocha squash (known to Americans as "Japanese pumpkins"), an autumn vegetable that kept well in the days before refrigeration and thus was a staple of the Japanese winter diet. This creamy soup works well on its own, and is extra delicious as a dipping sauce for bread.  

Recipe: The Spruce Eats

Related: 30 Hearty Fall Soups Perfect for a Chilly Day


Sochivo (Russia and Ukraine)

In Russian Orthodox tradition, it's common to fast on Christmas Eve, then break the fast with sochivo, a sweet porridge made of grains sweetened with fruit, honey, and nuts.

Recipe: Window to Russia

Eel, Italy

Eel (Italy)

Though not consumed much in the United States except in sushi restaurants, grilled or fried eel is a traditional part of Christmas Eve dinner throughout much of Italy, where Catholic tradition dictates one abstain from eating meat before Christmas day. In some Italian-American households, the oily sea snake is included as part of a seafood-centric "Feast of the Seven Fishes." 

Recipe: The Spruce Eats

Raw Whale and Fermented Seabird, Greenland

Raw Whale and Fermented Seabird (Greenland)

You'll have a hard time finding Greenland's Christmas delicacies anywhere outside the Arctic, not that most of us would really want to. Mattak, for example, is raw whale skin diced into symmetrical squares before serving. Kiviak is even stranger, prepared by stuffing a seal skin full with hundreds of seabirds, called auks, and letting them ferment inside it for seven months. When finally ready, the birds are removed and served straight from the hollowed seal carcass.

Night of the Radishes, Oaxaca
Night of the Radishes, Oaxaca by Travis (CC BY)

Night of the Radishes (Oaxaca, Mexico)

Before and after Christmas church services on Dec. 23, merchants in the southern Mexican city of Oaxaca aim to attract business in local holiday markets using intricately carved radish sculptures. In 1897, the mayor made the Night of the Radishes an official celebration, so now farmers grow a larger variety of the deep red root vegetable just to carve for the occasion.

Puto Bumbong, The Philippines

Puto Bumbong (Philippines)

Puto bumbong is an oblong sweet cake prepared by steaming ground purple rice inside a bamboo tube, then served on a banana leaf topped with margarine, grated coconut, and molasses-rich sugar. It's most often sold as a street food by vendors outside churches during Simbang Gabi, a nine-day series of masses attended by Filipino Roman Catholics and Aglipayans honoring the Virgin Mary. 

Recipe: Panlasang Pinoy

Lutefisk, Sweden
Lutefisk, Sweden by Jimmy Emerson, DVM (CC BY-NC-ND)

Lutefisk (Sweden)

Lutefisk is a truly unique dish commonly enjoyed around Christmas in Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, and parts of the United States such as Minnesota with large populations of Scandinavian heritage. It's made from a dried fish such as cod or haddock soaked in lye, aka sodium hydroxide, and steamed to create its unusual gelatinous texture.  

Christmas Pudding and Mincemeat Pies, England

Christmas Pudding and Mincemeat Pies (England)

"A Christmas Carol" and other U.K.-originated holiday stories frequently mention seasonal dishes such as plum pudding and mince pies, whose recipes sound about as enticing as most traditional English cuisine. The former is made from a variety of dried fruits suspended in a batter of egg and suet, or beef fat, while the latter traditionally contained the same mixture of ingredients with the addition of imported spices such  as cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg. 

Recipe: The Spruce Eats

Related: Savory Pies From Around The World

Bathtub Carp, Czech Republic

Bathtub Carp (Czech Republic)

Fried, breaded carp with potato salad and fish soup constitutes a traditional Czech Christmas meal. These days, street vendors will sell the live fish from large tubs leading up to the holiday, but it used to be common custom for families to keep the carp alive in their home bathtubs for up to a week before the holiday so they could be enjoyed as fresh as possible.

Salty Cake, Spain

Salty Cake (Spain)

In Spain, Dec. 28 is the Day of the Holy Innocents, commemorating the infants slaughtered by order of King Herod on the day of Jesus' birth with a day of practical jokes not dissimilar to April Fools' Day in the United States. Though no longer celebrated as widely in many Spanish cities, one of the most amusing traditions originated with the nation's bakers making cakes with salt instead of sugar to confuse customers.

Joulutorttu, Finland

Joulutorttu (Finland)

According to some legends, the Lapland region of Northern Finland contains the real home of Santa Claus, so it's only fitting the nation has plenty of culinary Christmas traditions. One of the tastiest sounding are Joulutorttu, light and flaky star- or windmill-shaped cookies made with ricotta and filled with a dollop of prune jam. 

Recipe: Curious Cuisinière

Kholodets, Russia

Kholodets (Russia)

In Russia and other parts of Eastern Europe, a traditional holiday meal will generally include kholodets, also called meat aspic, which essentially means a savory vegetable salad made by boiling meat until the stock becomes gelatinous. If you're not using a premade package of gelatin, this will entail boiling meat portions rich in collagen such as chicken legs and pork foot for at least five hours to achieve the right consistency. 

Recipe: Gastro Senses

Pasteles, Puerto Rico

Pasteles (Puerto Rico)

Families in Puerto Rico and other parts of Latin America may devote an entire day or more to preparing pasteles to freeze and enjoy throughout the Christmas season. The tamalelike specialty is made with a meat such as chicken or pork combined with chickpeas, raisins, and olives, enfolded in a root-vegetable dough and steamed inside a banana leaf. 

Recipe: The Spruce Eats 

Christopsomo, Greece

Christopsomo (Greece)

Literally translated to "Christ's bread," Christopsomo is a buttery, sweet bread rich in religious symbolism and thus integral to holiday feasts in Greek Orthodox families. Usually prepared on Christmas Eve, the round loaf is infused with cloves, cinnamon, and orange, then topped with an intricate cross of dough with its ends wrapped around walnuts. 

Recipe: Martha Stewart

Red Bean Paste Porridge, Korea

Red Bean Paste Porridge (Korea)

Winter solstice is a major cause for celebration in Korea, and the main dish served to honor the occasion is a rich soup made from overcooked rice balls and red beans simmered until they form a thick paste. The red beans symbolize warding off bad spirits while the rice balls represent new life, with some Koreans traditionally eating one for each year they have lived. 

Recipe:  Crazy Korean Cooking

Whole Fish and Uncut Noodles, China

Whole Fish and Uncut Noodles (China)

China's standard New Year's Eve staples of whole cooked fish and uncut noodles are rich with symbolism. Both are believed to aid in longevity — the longer the noodles, the longer your life. Most sweets prepared for the occasion are made with dates, chestnuts, and seeds, which represent fertility. 

Recipe: Reader's Digest Best Health