In Latin America it’s spicy tamales.
In the Czech Republic it’s a rich feast of breadcrumb-encrusted carp.
When it comes to Christmas dinner, there are almost as many varieties as there are cultures.
Even the stalwart British tradition of turkey with all the trimmings gives way to pancakes in the Netherlands, goose in Germany and fish in Italy.
From meatless feasts to “fur coat” fish, here are just some of the ways people celebrate Christmas around the world.
Weihnachtsgans, or German Christmas goose, is the traditional fowl that anchors family feasts around the country, though roast duck is becoming increasingly popular too.
“My Mom makes weihnachtsgans every year — to this day,” says Max Hess, a Milwaukee-based German-American who visits Germany every year for Christmas.
“It’s German tradition to give our gifts on Christmas Eve rather than Christmas Day, so we eat the goose and, as soon as it gets dark, proceed to share gifts with friends and family.”
“Gourmetten is a typical Dutch Christmas dinner tradition, where a group of people sit at a table and cook their own little dishes in small pans [atop a large hot plate],” says Maartje Frederiks, CEO of the meal delivery group HelloFresh Benelux.
It is reminiscent of the Swiss and French raclette, though instead of grilling cheese on a communal grill, Dutch people grill a variety of meat, fish and vegetables.
“Additionally, the Dutchies like to bake small omelets or pancakes, and dress the experience with a variety of different sauces and bread with garlic butter,” says Frederiks.
The Feast of the Seven Fishes, which occurs on Christmas Eve, is a gut-busting ritual kept in many parts of Italy and the Italian-American community.
“It’s a tradition that both my Chef de Cuisine Joe Flamm and I grew up with, being from large Italian American families,” says Tony Mantuano, chef-partner of acclaimed restaurant Spiaggia in Chicago.
“It’s important that there are seven different ‘fishes’ prepared in seven different ways. Dishes are fried, cured, served in tomato sauce, etc., and the dishes are served throughout the evening.”
Feasts in some homes are known to go past the seven-course mark, sometimes swelling to 12 or 13 courses.
Nevertheless, there are some ingredients that are non-negotiable.
“There has to be baccala [salt cod] without a doubt! Calamari, too,” Mantuano says.
In many parts of Asia, pork is as much a food staple as rice and the Philippines is no exception.
It’s tropical climate makes it perfect for gathering the family outdoors to help with lechon, or whole roasted pig.
“Preparing lechon is a bit of an event in itself — from stuffing the hog with onions, lemongrass, and garlic to preparing the fire,” says expat Filiipino and executive chef Carlo Lamagna of Portland’s Clyde Common.
“For the most part, when doing this with family in the Philippines, there are no fancy motorized machines … it’s usually just everyone chipping in with rotating the pig attached to a thick bamboo pole.”
“One of the most authentic Christmas traditions in Costa Rica is to prepare tamales … every family has a secret tamale recipe,” says Allan Duarte, banquet manager at Costa Rica Marriott San Jose.
“Every December tamales are part of our daily meals, and if you visit a Tico house (a typical Costa Rican rural residence), you will always get a tamale as a gift of hospitality.”
Tamales are usually wrapped in banana leaves, and stuffed with a meat (pork, chicken or beef), garlic, onion, potatoes, raisins and other ingredients.
The tamale tradition can be found all over Latin America, each country putting its own particular spin on ingredients and customs.
Click here to read more.