What’s eaten for Christmas dinner around the world?
When it comes to Christmas dinner in Britain, there’s not much variation. Turkey with all the trimmings, followed by a mountain of Christmas pudding that sits in your stomach like a suet cannonball, is as traditional as the Queen’s Speech and a family row.
Around the world, however, people tuck into all sorts of weird and wonderful festive fare. In much of Europe, the main meal is held on December 24, and there’s not a speck of turkey to be seen. In Poland, people tuck into an enormous banquet called Wigilia , or the Star Supper, featuring dishes such as borscht and dumplings.
In Italy, most families avoid meat on Christmas Eve in favour of The Feast of the Seven Fishes, where delicacies such as fried eel are the star of the show (pasta and meat dishes such as il cotechino, a sausage made from pig’s intestines, are served the next day).
In Germany, where roast goose and red cabbage are the kings of the Christmas table, legend has it that those who do not dine well on Christmas Eve will be haunted by demons – so there’s no excuse not to squeeze in that extra slice of stollen.
Some of the most eyebrow-raising Christmas food comes from Iceland, where it’s not unusual to be served puffin or roasted reindeer – something that must lead to rather difficult conversations with children about Rudolph.
Slovakia also has some unusual festive favourites, such as kapustnica, a thick sauerkraut soup, and fried carp. So central to Christmas, in fact, is the carp in eastern Europe that many families buy a live one and keep it in the bath until it’s time to cook it – something which makes finding a decent turkey suddenly seem a lot less stressful. Much more appetising is the tradition in France’s Provence region, where 13 desserts are created in honour of Christ and the 12 apostles, and left out for three days for people to nibble on (though would they last that long in British houses?).
Over in the East, festive traditions get even stranger. Christmas is not a national holiday in Japan, where less than one per cent of the population is Christian, but there is one Yuletide ritual they love: KFC. A clever marketing campaign by the fast-food chain in the Seventies convinced the Japanese that Christmas and the Colonel were inextricable (the slogan was “Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!”, or “Kentucky for Christmas!”) and people queue around the block to get their hands on a festive bucket in December.
In Egypt, Christians like to gorge on Christmas Eve, often late after mass. Because Egypt still observes the Coptic Calendar, however, this doesn’t take place until January 6. Many cook a special meal known as fata, a kind of lamb stew with rice, bread and garlic, to get them in the holiday mood.
Despite the baking heat, the Australians love a traditional British Christmas. But a picnic or barbecue is just as common and, yes – they do often throw a shrimp or two on the barbie. Pavlova, for some reason, is a popular dessert, though Christmas pudding is also traditional. Back in the days of the gold rush, a lucky gold nugget was often hidden inside the pudding instead of a coin.
In the Americas, Christmas can be a spicy business. On Christmas Eve, Mexicans tuck into traditional stews and fish dishes, with spicy tamales (corn dough pastries) and sweet fritters called buñuelos. The Peruvians have a taste for turkey, and as much hot chocolate as they can handle: many organisations hold gatherings in the festive season called chocolatadas, where impoverished locals are treated to the drink, along with sweets and toys.
In America, it’s roast all the way – though, due to the fact that Thanksgiving is so close to Christmas, our turkey-stuffed cousins across the pond tend to opt for another meat. A typical American dessert like pumpkin or apple pie is more likely than Christmas pud or mince pies, and controversially, crackers are not a feature.
That’s right – no terrible jokes, and no silly hats that slip over your eyes just as you try to take a bite of turkey. They’re definitely missing out.