We like to believe that traditions are sacred and that they remain unchanged year after year, but it is in their very nature to evolve over time. Today it is often criticized how other countries influence us, but deep down each place maintains some customs that give Easter that character at once universal and different. The Christmas Eve and Christmas tables look very different depending on the corner of the world where it is celebrated.
Some time ago we got closer to the sweet Advent traditions and my partner Mª José guided us through some of the uses and customs of these festivals. Today we propose a new virtual trip to browse a little in the kitchens of other countries and thus know what dishes they are going to enjoy on these dates.
A country as large as France, with so differentiated cultural zones, also presents a variety of culinary traditions – receiving the influence of neighboring countries, such as the German mark of Alsace. Some families have a more intimate dinner on Christmas Eve and dedicate Christmas Day to opening gifts and extending the meal until the afternoon and dinner, while many others continue to pay more attention to the menu on the 24th.
The Christmas eveillon it goes hand in hand with the celebration of the Mass of the Rooster. After attending it, we proceed to the “awakening” dinner, a large menu that is more or less luxurious and above all copious. Typical Christmas dishes of today are those that we could all associate with a high pompadour menu, such as foie, cheeses, oysters, smoked salmon, caviar, scallops and other shellfish; in other areas, however, meat plays a more prominent role.
The great poultry dishes are once again traditional here, such as turkey, goose, poulard or duck. But if there is a Christmas gastronomic ceremony that stands out in France, it is the one that is prepared in the south, in Provence: the Gros Souper et les treize desserts. Seven “lean” dishes symbolizing the wounds of Christ accompanied by thirteen desserts representing the Last Supper with the twelve apostles. Quite a feast.
Although times change and gastronomic culture can vary greatly from one region of the country to another, in general in Italy the religious importance of Christmas is maintained. Christmas Eve is a day of fasting, of vigil before Christmas Day, and the dinner –il Cenone– in many places it becomes a feast of celebration with even greater meaning than the menu on the 25th.
In many regions, especially in the south, mostly fish and seafood is served, such as prawns and prawns, octopus, grilled lobster, mussels or seafood dishes such as spaghetti alle vongole. At Christmas it is common to roast or stew meat or share a large plate of baked pasta, according to the family recipe. In Tuscany, wild boar, capon and baked pork tenderloin are very traditional, accompanied by vegetables such as artichokes and thistle in different forms.
And they can not be missing either the typical sweets, beyond the Panettone and the Pandoro, as the trunk of Natale or chocolate log. Each region has its own specialties in addition to those common to the whole country, with biscuits or biscotti of all kinds, fried dough, candied fruit, torroni, cavallucci, panforte, ricciarelli, candies, cakes, chocolates and much more.
Our other neighbors also largely maintain the religious significance of the festivities, which is why Christmas Eve has great family importance. The Portuguese also celebrate the Mass of the Rooster and fasting is still frequently practiced, or at least symbolically. putting the meat aside. Nothing serious in a country where cod, octopus and other fish and shellfish are a delicacy.
The most typical thing is to celebrate the Consoada after mass, the “consolation” after the penance. A festive dinner that still leaves meat products for the next day. Traditionally in the villages the slaughter was carried out a few days or weeks before, dedicating the consumption of sausages and others for lunch or dinner on the 25th. Although cod is still the king, there are also dishes of kid, lamb or roasts of bird.
They are very typical fried snacks and sweets, like the azevias, the coscorões, the filhoses or the “slices”, very similar to our French toast. Portugal is a country with an extensive cookbook of traditional sweets that follow family recipes and are not lacking on the tables during the holidays.
In countries such as Germany or Switzerland, where cantons and Catholic families coexist with Protestants, the importance given to Christmas Eve and Christmas Day may vary. Many Catholic families continue to put the tree on the same 24 and that night the gifts are opened, so dinner is usually intimate, familiar and simple, cold or without complicated dishes. There are many toys to try and then attend the Mass of the Rooster.
On Christmas Day it is food that brings the family together around the table. Protestants celebrate their main mass that morning and then prepare for the banquet, which in the past could be more or less luxurious if the domestic economy could afford it. Roast poultry are still the queens of the showEspecially if the family is very large, as a good turkey offers many leftovers to reuse the following days.
Germany, being a very large country with diverse regions, also has different traditions depending on the area. Many families too they opt for cold and simple dishes on Christmas Eve, among which there is no shortage of potato salad or Kartoffelsalat and sausages, which children tend to like a lot. Those who still respect a certain fast often opt for frugal dinners such as soup or vegetable cream.
Since today more luxuries are allowed, many houses choose to prepare a great special roast as the centerpiece of the feast, especially on Christmas Day. Turkey, goose or duck are highly appreciated birds, but also lamb, rabbit and game deer. Vegetable garnishes vary according to the area, with cabbages as the favorite options, and river fish is also highly appreciated in certain regions.
Fried carp is precisely an essential dish of the Christmas menus of Czech Republic. Formerly fasting was practiced until the very dinner of the 25th, and fish became the star of the festivities, following the religious canons that try to avoid meat. Today it is traditional start with a fish soup and continue with battered and fried carp, along with salads and garnishes of local potatoes or vegetables.
On Finland They also celebrate Christmas Eve as the start of Christmas by dedicating a special family dinner. It is customary to meet at home after taking candles to the cemetery, and perhaps take a sauna. Lunch is light, sometimes based on the typical pudding or rice pudding and fruit compote, halfway between food and dessert.
In the afternoon -or late at night- families have a full dinner and gifts are exchanged. Fish dishes are not lacking, with salmon, herring and gravlax as preferred options, accompanied by casseroles and winter vegetable gratin. The christmas ham It also has many followers, and each family prepares their favorite salads.
Also Swedish so much importance to Christmas Eve or Julafton, with a family dinner around the Julbord or Christmas table, with many appetizers and entrees, patés, pickles, fermented, salted and canned fish, salads, hot dishes -as the essential Julskinka or ham * -, vegetables, sausages … and desserts that can range from rice pudding to chocolate cakes or fruit tarts with plenty of spices.
The British dedicate the great feast to the 25th, reserving Christmas Eve to finalize preparations, stuff socks, sing Christmas carols and have dinner early as a family to go to bed soon. The next day the gifts are opened and the traditional menu is prepared, which can follow family customs or innovate a bit with more international dishes.
The typical, yes, it’s roast turkey again. Other very popular options are goose, sirloin or pork loin, or ribs of veal, among others. Not missing the stuffing, sauce or gravy, roast potatoes and brussels sprouts, plus some salad or more vegetable garnishes. In short, it is very reminiscent of the American Thanksgiving menu.
As for dessert, the Christmas pudding well drunk and loaded with fruits, which is flambé before serving and has as many lovers as detractors. Instead you can serve a Christmas cake -always with lots of fruits, usually garnished with marzipan- and small bites such as the mince feet and cookies.
We all remember the typical Christmas movies and many festive episodes of our favorite series, but we must remember that Thanksgiving is much more important in the United States. At least in terms of meaning, it is clear that Americans are crazy about everything that has to do with Christmas icons.
As in the UK, Americans they usually dedicate the great feast to the 25th, reserving Christmas Eve for small family traditions. Gifts are normally opened on Christmas morning, especially when young children are at home, although it is a habit that tends to change between adults.
Today the Christmas menu can present infinite variations, although turkey is usually the preferred option again. As an alternative roast ham, roast beef or some other baked poultry are popular, always accompanied by sauces, vegetable garnishes, potatoes or sweet potatoes, and salads. Many regions and families have their own traditional recipes, particularly when it comes to dessert or sweets.
Naturally, traditions mix and differ when they come into play cultures settled by indigenous and immigrant populations, starting with the Italian-American Christmas -and its feast of the seven fish dishes- or the Indian, Latin or Creole influence. Not forgetting that Jews celebrate their own holidays with Hanukkah.