Christmas feasts around the world

Updated on 23 October 2019 | 0 Comments

British Christmas eating already embraces many `foreign' traditions, but we've plenty more to go at.

Is our Tradition Traditional?

On Christmas Day millions in Britain eat turkey, cranberry sauce, roast spuds and Brussels sprouts. Which shows how our feasting has changed over the years – three American introductions and one European. Like the rest of our food culture, festive eating constantly evolves – who in Cumbria now eats Hackin (think haggis with dried fruit) at Christmas? Lately Stollen and Panettone have become Christmas standards, and it’s unlikely they’ll be the last additions.

A Moveable Feast

Some cultures celebrate Christmas on days other than December 25th. For Poles the biggie is Christmas Eve – Wigilia. If turkey and all the trimmings is a stretch, imagine cooking 12 dishes that should always include carp, often herring, and pierogi (stuffed dumplings). The French likewise: ‘A vivid memory for me growing up in France is the "Reveillon," the enormous feast on Christmas Eve. The whole family and possibly close friends spend much of the day preparing food. It’s a great time where people of all ages muck in and as a child you are shown tips and secret recipes, or how to open oysters,’ says François Bernier, French chef resident on Islay. We can’t see earthy carp becoming a new favourite, but oysters are tempting.

In Greece and many other countries Epiphany on January 5th - Twelfth Night – is the main event, celebrating the Three Kings’ arrival in Bethlehem. Our Christmas fruitcake probably derives from the King Cake tradition still vital for example in Spain and Portugal: whoever finds the bean or trinket hidden in the cake is king or queen for the night. Drury Lane Theatre with its Twelfth Night Baddeley Cake is a survival of our similar lost custom. Time for a revival?

Sunny Noel?

Not everyone expects Yuletide snow. Kiwi in Britain Megan Myers recalls: ‘As Christmas happens in New Zealand’s summer we tend to eat outside, and because of the heat Christmas lunch is generally cold meats - and always Pavlova with strawberries. Some Maori people have a hangi, meat cooked on hot stones in a pit that’s earthed over and left for hours; the meat just falls apart.’ Try that in Burnley – though Pavlova sounds good.

Brits Abroad

Britons who spend Christmas abroad or make their lives overseas take on new customs and spread ours, though some staples are hard to find – the French think parsnips only fit for cattle: ‘What I miss most is the mince pies,’ says Nasim Bell, owner with husband Pete of British outpost The Hummingbird Tearoom in Woodlands, Texas. ‘Turkey is more of a Thanksgiving food - ham is popular here at Christmas. I long for decent Christmas cake - and I’ve not seen repeats of Morecambe and Wise for 23 years!’ Pete tells me.

If you’ve ever spent Christmas abroad what was it like? What did you miss or love?

More Christmas goodies on Lovefood:

Kelly Bronze Turkeys

Some thoughts on Christmas Pudding

Christmas and Cornwall


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