Christmas has always been one of my favorite holidays. Living in New York City, as much as I can't stand the freezing weather, I love the Christmas spirit. The heartwarming Christmas music, the sounds of jingle bells jangling, the Christmas trees with their colorful lights and ornaments, and people gathering around dining tables to enjoy delicious banquets. Christmas is one of those holidays that just seems filled with joy and wonder.
As a Chinese American, meals at Christmas are essentially traditional Chinese feasts. Every year at Christmas my family cooks eight to ten scrumptious Chinese dishes. I couldn’t help but wonder if this was similar to what everyone else eats on Christmas. As curiosity got the best of me, I did some research and interviewed a number of foodies from different backgrounds to find out what they eat on Christmas.
Eric Ripert, a French chef, author and television personality, told me, “A traditional French Christmas always includes oysters, turkey stuffed with chestnuts, and a Christmas log; all decadent and playful dishes to help celebrate the holiday. My plan is to spend it with friends and family. I have the privilege of cooking this year and I’m very loyal to the traditional French dishes. I always add a couple of variations to my menu but the turkey and Christmas log are a must!”
Italians eat several traditional desserts during Christmas, according to Francine Segan, the author of six books, including the Opera Lover’s Cookbook, and both a James Beard and IACP award nominee. “The two most popular [desserts] are: Panettone, a tall dome-shaped sweet yeast cake baked with raisins and candied orange peel, and Pandoro, a tall star-shaped cake with a delicious egg-y brioche-like soft center and a lovely vanilla-butter flavor. Pandoro is often cut in horizontal slices that are restacked to look like a Christmas tree. And just like a gingerbread house, you can decorate it with anything festive including tiny candies, sprinkles or crushed candy canes.”
According to David Rosengarten, a chef, author and television personality on the Food Network, “I’ve always loved the German tradition of the Christmas goose. Why a goose on Christmas? Most explanations are tied to Advent, which is scrupulously observed by Catholics in southern Germany; if you’re observant, you fast during Advent. The period begins on Nov. 11, St. Martin’s day—and those facing the big fast love to eat rich, indulgent goose just before Advent begins. But when does Advent end? Dec. 24, of course…when people want to break the fast with another goose dinner! A good German Christmas goose dinner features the golden, roasted bird, apples and onions in the stuffing, a brown gravy, dumplings or spaetzle, and a heap of clove-y, sweet-sour red cabbage on the side.”
Believe it or not, Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) is one of the most popular foods to eat at Christmas in Japan. Christmas is the highest grossing day of the year for KFC’s Japan restaurants, as everyone orders buckets of chicken to share with their families and friends. Mie Ocuda, the chef of Momokawa, a Japanese restaurant in Kips Bay, said, “Yes, that’s true. Japanese people are crazy about KFC on Christmas.”
JoAnn Costanzo the chef at Streecha, a Ukrainian restaurant in East Village, said, “Ukrainians must eat Kutia during Christmas. It’s a wheat-based cereal. It's loaded with poppy seeds, walnuts, pecans, almonds, raisins and honey. Cereal symbolizes fertility and honey symbolizes the spirit of Jesus Christ.”
Allahabadi Christmas cake is a traditional Indian rum fruitcake, baked with maida, eggs, butter, sugar, petha, marmalade, nuts, ginger and fennel. It originated in the northern Indian city of Allahabad.
Twelve meatless dishes, symbolizing the twelve Apostles, are served on Christmas in Lithuania. The tradition of the supper can be traced back to pre-Christian times and is connected with remembering the souls of deceased ancestors.
Roast pig is one of Puerto Rico's national dishes. It is usually eaten during celebrations and especially at Christmas. The whole pig is roasted over a large charcoal grill.
Rice and peas is part of the Christmas dinner in Jamaica. It’s usually cooked with fresh gungo peas, instead of dried kidney beans or other dried legumes.
Vitello Tonnato, a sliced veal dish covered with a creamy sauce, is considered a traditional Christmas dish in Argentina. It’s served cold.
Cougnon, a type of sweet bread known in Belgium as the bread of Jesus, is baked during Christmas. It’s made with flour, eggs, milk, yeast, raisins, and sugar.
In Chile, people like to drink Ponche a la romana at Christmas. It’s an drink akin to eggnog made with champagne and pineapple ice cream.
Of course, this list isn’t a complete summary of what everyone likes to eat on Christmas. So please feel free to comment below. Let me know what you eat on Christmas and which part of the globe you are from.
I see a lot of similarities and also a lot of differences in our food cultures. Here’s my take on it, food is a language that everyone can understand, and it unites us on so many different levels—emotional, mental, spiritual, and physical. And Christmas is a holiday that brings joy and family gatherings.
Lastly, I’d like to thank every foodie who helped me with this research, as well as my co-producer Victoria Prima, the Epoch Times writer Sarah Matheson, and all my social media friends who answered my questions. May this Christmas be a bright and cheerful one and may the New Year begin on a prosperous note!