What The World Eats at Christmas

24 Dec 2014
4 min read
What does the festive season mean to you? Deep-rooted in culinary traditions, which, depending on what part of the world you live, varies from fresh-fruit pavlova to glühwein, roast turkey to suckling pig. Here’s a look at how different nations celebrate…
UK’s Christmas

Christmas in the UK holds food and family at its heart. On 25December presents are exchanged and a wholesome feast is prepared. Traditionally, a golden roasted turkey is the star of the meal, accompanied by vegetables, stuffing and gravy. For dessert a Christmas pudding – a dried fruit, brandy and suet pudding – is brought out, engulfed in brandy flames, and enjoyed with custard. A small, lucky trinket is hidden inside for whoever finds it.

On the 26December, the British celebrate Boxing Day. It is a family day, dedicated to eating the previous day’s leftovers, disguised as sandwiches and curries, watching films and playing board games.

Mince pies have also survived the test of time, remaining a trusty British staple at Christmas time since the 13thcentury. Not everyone, however, is a fan. Food writer andFOURcolumnist, Tom Parker Bowles was once quoted: “I can’t bear the bloody things!”

Two Michelin star chef,Michael Wignall lets us into a Christmas special dish at The Latymer: “we have a savoury course on the gourmet menu, which showcases Vacherin Mont D’Or, quince and chestnut. It consists on Vacherin espuma, quince liquid gel, quince film, quince butter and a chestnut and Tomme D’Savoire Sable.”

Germany’s Weihnachten

Saint Nicholas’ Day, 6 December starts the festive season in Germany. Children wake up to find their shoes filled with sweets, chocolate, nuts and satsumas if they’ve been well behaved.

A few weeks and many a Christmas market later, Christmas Eve arrives. After evening mass people dig into a meal of carp and salad before sharing presents. Christmas Day sees extended family gather over a great feast of suckling pig, roasted goose, sausage and raclette, with traditional desserts like stolen – a fruitcake dusted with icing sugar – all washed down with glühwein.

The season draws to an end on Epiphany (6 January); children dress as the Magi, go carol singing and collect sweets and a traditional Three Kings cake – a crown-shaped orange and spices sponge cake with a small, lucky trinket hidden inside – is shared.

Brazil’s Natal

Brazil, a country influenced by many cultures, nationalities and religions, celebrates Christmas in the mid-summer heat and ends onEpiphany with traditional folk parades.

On Christmas Eve, after midnight mass, a grand dinner that revolves around meat and vegetables is shared. Pork loins, roasted turkey, rice,farofa– roasted manioc flour with meat and spices – and a plethora of fresh salads are feasted on. Dessert israbanada, fried eggy bread, drizzled with a Port wine, honey and cinnamon reduction.

In the heat of Christmas Day celebrations involve present opening, al frescochurrascos (barbeques), and keeping cool with extended family and friends. Parties and fireworks dictate 25December.


The Philippines has the longest festive season in the world; carols are played from September and end on Epiphany on 6 January when children leave their shoes outside to collect sweets or money.

16 December marks the start of nine days of mass.Puto bumbong, a purple glutinous rice cake flavoured with butter, is served with muscovado sugar and grated coconut in churches and homes.

Celebrations of Christmas Eve begin with midnight mass and are followed by grand family dinners.Lechon, suckling pig is usually at the centre of the meal with sides of Edam cheese andcoconut salad. Dessert is traditionallybibingka,a coconut milk rice cakeorcrema de fruta, jelly, fruit, cream and milk. Christmas Day is dedicated to paying respect to the elders, exchanging presents, spoiling children and eating and sharing the previous day’s leftovers.

Poland’sBoże Narodzenie

Poland’s festive season is lathered in culinary and religious traditions. Festivities start on St Nicholas’ Day, 6December, with sweets placed in the polished boots of well-behaved children and end on Epiphany, with nationwide parades, dancing and food.

On Christmas Eve Poland fasts until the first star appears in the sky. After sharing a Christmas waferWiglia, a feast of 12 meat-free courses begins. Carp and herring, soups and dumplings are the meal’s main features, with pasta and poppy seeds, almond, lemon and dried fruit as dessert. All washed down with sips ofkrupnik, a honey spiced vodka, to complete the banquet. After the feast, children open their presents.

Polish Chef Wojciech Modest Amaro describes the 12 course special Christmas degustation menu at Atelier, including ‘herring, eel, cabbage and chickpeas,hare with edible ears, gingerbread spiced reindeer moss cakes andedible Christmas baubles made of wild rose’.

Christmas Day does not give much respite for those with a small appetite, as a meat-feast is prepared. Goose, chicken or beef are cooked and shared between family and friends.

New Zealand’s Christmas

Chef Matt Lambert describesa New Zealand Christmas as being‘all about sun shine and fresh summer produce’.

Christmas in New Zealand is more about barbeques, sun and fun than snow and winter-warming food. Christmas dinner, on 25 December, consists of glazed ham, turkey or fish cooked in aHāngi, a traditional Māori underground cooking method using heated stones, or on a barbeque. The meal finishes with a fresh-fruitpavlova, as a light alternative to a heavy Christmas cake.

Boxing Day, on 26 December, is a popular day to spend with family and friends, on the beach or playing sports, eating leftovers and ending the festive season on a summery high.

Ethiopia’s Ganna

Ethiopia celebrates Christmas on 7 January according to the Western calendar. Christmas Eve is spent fasting only to wake up early on Christmas morning for mass, ensued by a feast ofdoro wat, a thick, spicy meat stew andinjera, flat bread. The meal is presented on a large plate and everyone dives in, tearing bit ofinjeraoff and scooping thedoro watup.

Twelve days after Christmas Ethiopians celebrateTimket, a three-day celebration for Epiphany; important church processions re-enact religious ceremonies, communities play music and eat together. Special bear,tejor mead,tellaare brewed and bread calledHimbasha, a slightly sweet flat bread often made with dried fruits, is baked and shared between the community.

FOUR wishes you a very Merry Christmas, where ever you are!