No matter where you are in the world, food is an important part of holiday celebrations. From potato cakes to fish, cookies to hot chocolate, here are 11 traditional holiday dishes from around the world.
Israel – Latkes
Latkes, a potato cake fried until its golden and crispy, is a traditional food served during the Jewish celebration of Hanukkah. As Hanukkah celebrates the miracle of one night’s worth of oil lasting for eight nights, many of the foods eaten during Hanukkah are fried. In addition to latkes – sometimes served with applesauce or another sweet topping – sufganiyot (fried jelly doughnuts) and brisket are often served as well.
England – Mince Pies
England has enjoyed mince pies during the holidays since the 13th century. Fighters returning from the Crusades brought back new, exotic spices like nutmeg and cinnamon and British cooks used them in an assortment of dishes like pies filled with mincemeat and dried fruit.
Sicily – Fish
Christmas throughout Sicily and Southern Italy means the Feast of the Seven Fishes. Traditionally, Roman Catholics fast on Christmas Eve, so a feast of seven or more seafood dishes at the end is a celebration of the area’s plentiful seafood bounty.
France – Bûche de Noël
The Bûche de Noël is the French version of the Yule Log. It is a rich cake filled and rolled to look like a log and is often decorated with meringue shaped into mushrooms or other small treats to make it look as though it were found on the forest floor. It is typically served after Christmas Eve midnight mass.
Greece – Melomakarona
Christmas is a major affair in Greece. Many Greeks fast before the holidays and when Christmas Day arrives, they go all out. One traditional dish served is melomakarona, a sweet, honey-soaked cookie topped with ground walnuts. It is eaten on Christmas Day, once fast is broken.
Poland – Babka
Bread is an essential part of the holiday season in Poland. One of the traditional bread dishes served is babka, a sweet bread, which is often broken on Christmas Eve following a fast. Polish families also set out an extra place setting for the lone wanderer who may pass through. Their Christmas meals are usually meatless and consist of staples like beet soup, boiled potatoes, and herring with sour cream.
Sweden – Saffon Buns
Sweden and other Scandinavian countries celebrate St. Lucia’s Day on December 13. According to tradition, the oldest daughter dresses in a white gown with a red sash and a crown of lit candles, then wakes her parents with coffee and saffron buns.
Peru – Spiced Hot Chocolate
Spiced hot chocolate is a Christmas tradition in Peru. Churches throughout the country take donations to make large quantities of it, and also accept donations on panettone, an Italian holiday bread. The bread and hot chocolate is served to those less fortunate in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
United Kingdom – Christmas Pudding
Christmas pudding – plum pudding – is one of the most popular traditional holiday dishes in the United Kingdom. Families have their own recipes for it, but they are typically made with dried fruit and spices, held together with eggs and suet. Some families bake a coin into their pudding and whoever finds it will have good luck in the new year.
Japan – KFC
In Japan, the Christmas Eve dinner of choice is KFC – the American chicken chain restaurant. The tradition began in the 1970s with an ad campaign and grew in popularity from there. The Japanese now order their “Christmas Chicken” weeks in advance, and can also grab cake and champagne when they pick up their orders.
Denmark and Norway – Kransekake
Both the Danish and the Norwegians serve kransekake over the holidays. Translated into “wreath cake,” the almond-flavored cake is formed into a Christmas tree with as many as 18 layers or more. It requires specialty cake pans to create.
Learn about our student educational programs.