Food for Thought: Holiday Feasts Around the World

Posted by Annette Bellisari on

Ham feast

People celebrate Christmas all over the world, but most Americans think of turkey and gravy for our traditional holiday meals. What are people in other countries eating during Christmas and winter holidays? This time of the year, much of the world is finding something worth celebrating — and when people celebrate, they tend to do it with food. Here is a collection of some unique and treasured food traditions from a handful of places across the globe to whet your appetite for the holiday season.

  • In Sicily, Italy, the Feast of the Seven Fishes, also known as The Vigil, is the typical Christmas Eve meal that features a variety of seafood dishes. 

  • In traditional Venezuelan homes hallacas, which are similar to Mexican tamales, are served around Christmas. Families gather for the task of preparing large batches of the savory meat stews stuffed inside cornmeal dough steamed in plantain leaves. A salad of diced carrots, potatoes, and mayonnaise is a typical accompaniment. Hallacas are only made during the holidays, and making them is an all-day affair. Like tamales, hallacas are made from corn meal, filled with a variety of ingredients that change from region to region and family to family, and wrapped in banana leaves. Many Venezuelans attribute the origins of hallacas to colonial times, when servants filled their cornmeal cakes with the leftovers the colonists didn’t eat.

  • On New Year’s Day, South Koreans typically celebrate with a traditional meal of Duk Gook, a rice cake soup. 

  • The traditional Christmas meal in Germany includes roast goose with dumplings, red cabbage, and stollen, a festive bread made with dried fruits and sprinkled with powdered sugar.

  • The French celebrate Christmas with a réveillon (long dinner) that features the most luxurious foods including oysters, langoustines, and foie gras.

  • On Christmas day in Mallorca, Spain, the classic dish is Escaldums de Nadal, a stew of turkey or suckling pig, with dried fruits served in an almond-y sauce.

  • During Paso (Christmas), Filipinos enjoy lechon (whole roasted pig) or jamon dulce (sweet ham) as part of their Christmas feasts. 

  • Sweden’s Christmas Julbord, is a smörgåsbord featuring herring, ham, meatballs, sausages, breads, cheeses, and cabbage. Jansson’s Temptation (a side dish) is another tradition, but no one is entirely sure how this Swedish Christmas casserole earned its name. One account claims the reason is pious priest Erik Jansson succumbed to the sin of gluttony because of it. The dish is concocted from potatoes, onions, cream, and anchovies.

  • In Poland, Ukraine, and Lithuania, the traditional Christmas dinner is a 12-dish spread that includes herring, sauerkraut, mushrooms, and dumplings. A festive red borscht with mushroom dumplings is traditional in Poland. In Ukraine, kutia is the first and most essential dish. A type of porridge, kutia helps feasters remember their loved ones who have passed on.

  • The typical Hanukkah dinner in Israel includes latkes, potato pancakes deep fried in oil, in a nod to the Hanukkah story in which oil that should have lasted only one night instead lasted eight. Today, grated potatoes fried in olive oil are synonymous with Hanukkah. Latkes have their roots in an Italian Jewish tradition of frying cheese pancakes that dates back to the 14th century. After a series of crop failures in the mid-19th century, European Jews began relying on potatoes, which were easy and cheap to grow. They began making Hanukkah pancakes with potatoes, and the tradition caught on.

  • As in other Latin countries, Cubans celebrate Noche Bueno or Christmas Eve, with a feast that centers on a whole roast pig. Accompaniments include black beans and rice, fried yuca, and plantains.

  • In China, during the Lantern Festival, Winter Solstice Festival, weddings, or family reunions, you’re likely to find tangyuan. The glutinous rice balls can be sweet or savory and are usually filled with red bean paste, ground sesame or crushed peanuts. Tangyuan are traditionally white, to mirror the moon, but are now often made in a variety of colors.

  • Finally, perhaps my favorite of all international holiday traditions – In 1974, American fast food chain Kentucky Fried Chicken unveiled their “Kentucky for Christmas!” marketing campaign in Japan. The story goes that KFC spread the idea that it’s a time-honored Western tradition to celebrate Christmas with fried chicken. Although only about 1 percent of people in Japan identify as Christian, there was an exotic appeal to the campaign, and it took off. Today, the tradition is so popular, it’s highly recommended to place Christmas Day orders well ahead of time. I guess Christmas in Japan is “finger-lickin good!” 😆

Whatever holiday you celebrate, special occasions are often a time when people gather around the table to enjoy a feast. Let this year’s celebratory meal feature anything made with our gourmet spreads and sauces and we’ll soon become part of your holiday tradition. Happy holidays from all of us at Bellisari’s.






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