Christmas dinner traditions

‘Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright…’

Christmas is coming! And while you’re busy getting ready, buying all the necessary foods, and planning your holidays, I offer you today to learn something new… of course, about Christmas! In particular, about traditional Christmas dinner in main English-speaking countries. And while some details and traditions vary from district to district within even the same country (just think about the differences we have in Ukrainian traditional menus!), here are some classical dishes which are literally the symbols of winter holidays and Christmas in particular in those countries.

The UK
I believe there are few people who haven’t heard about famous Yorkshire pudding, a type of bakery made from a batter of eggs, milk and flour. It’s probably the most English dish ever, which is traditionally served at Christmas as a side dish. What is the main dish then, you may wonder? Turkey! Turkey served with stuffing of sage and onion, roast potatoes, and gravy (a kind of sauce made from drippings of the turkey when it is cooked, mixed with flour to make it thicker). Another extremely traditional English Christmas dish is called ‘pigs in blankets’, which is essentially small sausages wrapped in bacon, mmm…! Among vegetables, the most holiday-like are Brussel sprouts, which are normally served steamed or fried up with bacon, and parsnips. Another quintessentially British dish at Christmas table is cranberry sauce, which perfectly complements turkey, stuffing, and even pigs in blankets. Finally, after you’ve already stuffed your stomach with the main dishes, desserts are coming, the most Christmas-y ones being Christmas pudding (a dark, sticky fruitcake, made of mixed dried fruit, candied fruit peel, citrus zests, brandy, and a rich mixture of spices), usually served with brandy butter (sweet sauce made of beaten butter and sugar with brandy, rum, whiskey, vanilla or other flavourings), and mince pies (tiny pies filled with a mixture of dried fruit, nuts and spices). What’s better than to finish your meal with some spicy rich bakery along a cup of tea or even a glass of wine?

American Christmas traditions are, – as everything in the USA is, – a combination of different nations’ traditions, including Scandinavian, Italian, French, German, Spanish and others, with British ones predominating. That’s why the core of the American Christmas dinner clearly resembles the British one: turkey, ham, or goose as a main dish, stuffing, roasted root vegetables, mashed potatoes and gravy. Further dishes are widely diverse and specific to certain states and regions, like oysters, ham pie, and fluffy biscuits in Virginia; Scandinavian lutefisk (dried fish in lye) and mashed turnip in Midwest; shrimps, Charlotte Russe (a dessert made of a fruit puree or custard in a mold lined with bread, cookies or sponge cake), pumpkin and pecan pies on the Gulf Coast; and others.

Canadian Christmas table, once more, closely resembles the British one: the same turkey with stuffing, roasted root vegetables, mashed potatoes, Brussel sprouts, gravy, and cranberry sauce. Traditional holiday drink in Canada, though, is eggnog: rich, sweet, milk-based punch, thickened with raw eggs and often infused with alcohol. Common Christmas desserts are Christmas cookies, shortbread (crumbling cookies made with lots of butter), Christmas pudding, pumpkin or apple pie, raisin pudding, fruitcake, and butter tarts (quintessentially Canadian tiny tart with a filling made of butter, sugar, syrup, and egg, and baked until semi-soft).

Australian Christmas looks completely different from the other countries’: while we associate Christmas with snow and frost and home hearth, in Australia it’s true summer! So, Australian Christmas dinner, although, again, similar to the British one, is still slightly varied: traditional turkey or ham is sometimes served cold, glazed with honey, maple or apricot, with lots of salads, fresh fruit and seafood (prawns, lobsters, oyster, crayfish), with barbecues providing a way to avoid intensifying summer heat with cooking in the kitchen. Unchanged remain cranberry sauce and roasted vegetables. Traditional Christmas desserts are Christmas pudding served with custard, pavlova (baked meringue topped with whipped cream, strawberries, kiwifruit and passionfruit), trifle (sponge cake and fruit with layers of custard, jelly, and cream), mince pies, gingerbread, and White Christmas (a mixture of raisins, sultanas, glace cherries, coconut, icing sugar, milk powder, and rice bubbles, with coconut oil as the binding ingredient).

So, if you’re looking for something new to diversify your Christmas dinner, maybe it’s time to borrow other countries’ traditions and make them yours?

What do you traditionally eat at Christmas table?
Which of the abovementioned dishes would you like to try?