Christmas Day means a few things: unwrapping a whole load of presents; disposing of all the now unwanted wrapping paper; dusting down the alcohol shelf for drinks untouched the rest of the year and, of course, a turkey roast with all the trimmings. That’s in the Anglosphere, anyway. For outside of the English-speaking world, there is a whole array of different festive feasts, and many are entirely different to what you might imagine. We uncover the various Christmas dishes around the world.
Spain & Latin America
The primary Christmas meal in Spain and Latin America takes place on Christmas Eve, La Nochebuena. The food served varies depending on the region, but often consists of lechón (pictured above) – a whole roast pig – as the main focus, with vegetables.
It is thought that this tradition dates back to the 15th century, when Caribbean imperialists would devote a lot of time to hunting down pigs so they could roast them whole for a family gathering on Christmas Eve.
In Spain, sweet dishes are also prevalent. This includes turrón, an almond nougat and polvorónes, a crumbly type of shortbread.
Poland’s Christmas dinner, too, comes on Christmas Eve. Theirs, the Star Supper – Wiglia – is rather a feast. There is very much a religious theme running throughout the occasion – hay is scattered all over the table to recreate the setting when Jesus was born in a manger.
Meanwhile, the meal consists of 12 courses – representing the 12 apostles. Fried carp and borscht – a type of beetroot soup – are particularly popular. While soup consisting largely of beetroot might not be enough to tempt you to Warsaw this Christmas, pierogi, small dumplings, stuffed with potato, sauerkraut and minced meat, might be.
La Réveillon is the peak of Christmas festivities in France – another occasion that takes place on 24th December. It is no exaggeration to label it as the most decadent of feasts – even more elaborate than the French version. The starters may include lobster, oysters, snails or foie gras, while the main meal comprises of turkey and chestnuts with much more besides.
The dessert is often a yule log – bûche de Noël – though in Provence they’re bold enough to partake in a thirteen-course dessert. The meal is also accompanied by fine wines and champagne to conclude.
The name La Réveillon derives from the verb ‘réveil’, meaning ‘to wake’. That’s because eating all the luxurious food and drink takes so long that it often involves staying up until the early hours of the morning.
Across Scandinavia, buffet style meals are popular on special occasions. In Finland, this is named joulupöytä – ‘Christmas table’ – and is quite similar to the Swedish smörgåsbord.
The main dish is often a large joint of ham, usually eaten with bread and mustard. There will be large fish, usually lutefisk and gravlax, along with laatikot, casseroles with liver and raisins, potatoes, rice and carrots. The drink of choice is, of course, good old glogg. Or, in Finnish, glögi. This is similar to mulled wine but for the less faint of heart – often including a spirit, such as brandy, as well.
Christians in Egypt, too, celebrate with their festive meal on Christmas eve. Yet, because Egypt follows the Coptic calendar, this means that that day doesn’t fall until 6th January.
Many eat an Egyptian meal named Fata, which is reserved for special occasions, such as a woman’s first birth, and both Christian and Muslim holidays. It includes layers of rice and fried bread, with large lamb or beef meat and deep-fried poached eggs. It’s a meal that is not short on calories.