Since recipes for Thanksgiving have pretty much been covered over the past few weeks and everything is posted online, I started wondering: What are some of the traditional Christmas Eve foods from different regions of the country and all over the world?
Many of our Christmas customs have been adopted from the United Kingdom. Their typical dinner consists of roasted turkey or chicken and other types of poultry, like goose, duck or pheasant. Vegetables such as brussels sprouts and potatoes are boiled or steamed. Stuffing and cranberry sauce are included and for dessert a Christmas plum pie.
Here in the United States, our holiday meal consists of roasted turkey, beef or ham with stuffing, corn, green beans, mashed potatoes, yams, sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce. Desserts often reflect ethnic background. There's pumpkin pie, apple pie, mince pie, sugar cookies, carrot cake, panettone and fruitcake. (Although I don't understand the last one. Does anyone actually serve fruitcake? And with what? I'm serious—I need help here, I want to understand the fruitcake! Maybe someone can write in and tell me more about it.) Then there's Bûche de Noël (a yule log). I have to buy this at the bakery—as much as I like to bake, I can't quite figure out how to do it!
Different regions and people of different ethnic backgrounds around the United States have foods they serve other than the traditional we know too.
Some in the South enjoy baked ham, baked chicken with cornbread stuffing, green vegetables, cornbread, candied yams, black-eyed peas, rice and macaroni and cheese on Christmas. Plus, plenty of apple pie and fruitcake for dessert. In the Southwest, a traditional Christmas dinner might have posole (my favorite soup), tamales and empanaditas! Hawaii has turkey teriyaki and pork with lots of fresh pineapples. And in many in Virginia serve oysters, ham and biscuits.
What people around the world eat on Christmas Eve
Christmas dinner around the world differs, and the traditions reflect the culture of the country. Turkey seems to be prevalent in most countries. Here are some other things people in different countries may serve:
In Mexico, tropical fruits and salads are served along with flavorful bowls of soup. Posole is made of pork or beef and hominy in red chili sauce. Menudo, another soup, is made with tripe. In northern Mexico they serve tamales. Desserts include fried flour tortillas sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon.
Brazilans serve roasted turkey, fresh vegetables and assorted Brazilian nuts. Large platters of rice are filled with ham and salads. In some parts of Brazil roast pork, chicken and fish are served. For desserts a variety of lemon tarts, nuts, pies, chocolate cake and Panettone.
The people of Denmark roast pork loin with crackling, goose and duck or will serve a combination of these. On the sides are red cabbage, potatoes and gravy. Dessert is the traditional rice pudding mixed the chopped almonds, sugar vanilla, whipped cream and a cherry sauce! There is a tradition called the "almond gift." A whole almond is hidden inside of the rice pudding and the one who finds it gets an extra present! They also brew special beer for the Christmas season.
In France, dishes include goose, foie gras (duck liver), oysters, smoked salmon, lobster, roasted duck, goose or turkey with chestnut stuffing! The traditional cake is Bûche de Noël, or Christmas log. Champagne is served with their meal.
Way down under in Australia, it tends to be very hot during the Christmas season, so barbecuing boar, chicken and turkey and serving it cold seems to be popular. There are plenty of prawns and steaks too. For dessert, fresh berries with baked meringue and seasonal fruits such as mangoes and cherries are plentiful!
Cristina shares her typical Christmas Eve dinner
For Italian families, like mine, the Christmas Eve meal was all about fish. It's a tradition for Italian cooks to serve seven different types of fish on Christmas Eve. The meal is known as La Vigillia, or Feast of the Seven Fishes. The tradition dates from the medieval Roman Catholic tradition of refraining from eating meat or drinking milk on Fridays and holy holidays. No meat or butter could be used, so everything was typically fried in oil. Not a problem! I couldn't wait for every Christmas Eve where I could eat all the fried food I wanted. Almost everything was fried, including the vegetables!
I loved the fried crunchy jumbo shrimp sprinkled with salt and pepper with a squirt of fresh lemon juice squeezed on top! I loved how the tender, sweet, hot morsels of tender, fresh shrimp surrounded by the light breading would crunch as you bit into it. Then there would be the fried calamari. I went insane for the tentacles—they were my favorite because they were so tender! My grandmother's secret was to soak the calamari in milk overnight (I know, she wasn't supposed to use milk products), which made the calamari melt in your mouth when you ate them. Then came the deep-fried scallops, cod fish in a marinara sauce, fried smelts, fried fillet of sole and grilled octopus!
The meal would start with antipasto—this included a variety of raw or marinated vegetables, assorted cheese and frutta de mare, a marinated fish salad that consisted of boiled shrimp, lobster, crab with olive oil, fresh herbs and lemon. Then came the big bowls of linguine and clams, penne pasta with garlic, olive oil and anchovies and everyone's favorite pasta with calamari sauce!
The preparation for the meal was as much fun as it was sitting down and eating it! It took my mom and grandmother three days to prepare this feast.
If you have been reading my blog, you may know by now that we had two kitchens when I was growing up. The second one was in the basement of our house and reserved for special family occasions, Christmas Eve being my favorite. Shopping for the food was thrilling for me. Even as a child the smell of fresh parsley made me crazy with delight! I would watch carefully as my mom and grandmother picked the perfect piece of fruit and determined what produce was fresh and what had been sitting in the bins too long. I also watched how they chose meat (we had an advantage since my dad was a meat cutter) and determined exactly how much to buy.
When it came time to go to the fish store I was hyperventilating (if you think I'm kidding, you're wrong!). I loved the smell of the fish store as you first walked in, it had the briny smell of the ocean. There was a huge, long case of freshly caught fish displayed so beautifully in ice. I preferred the fish already cut up because the fish with their heads still intact had those huge, panicked eyes staring up at me that seemed to be saying, "Are you really going to eat me?" That made me uncomfortable and still does.
We would buy fish by the case, not the pound, because we had so many people for our Christmas Eve celebration! After we brought everything home, it was time to clean the fish. Down to the basement we would go with my aunts, who came over to help. I would listen to them speak in Italian and reminisce about their childhood memories, laughing and sometimes crying—not because they were sad—I was told they were happy tears. Now that I'm grown and have children of my own and family traditions that live on, I also get those happy tears.
I've kept the family tradition going. However, I grill or sauté the fish instead of frying them. Different times and different cholesterol levels!