New This Month

Christmas Tastes Like This, Feasts Around the World

There's plenty of sweet treats and lots of oysters for Christmas dinner and other celebrations.

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Photography by: John Kernick

France

Le revillion de Noel, the grand French holiday feast, takes place on Christmas Eve, often after mass. That means it's a late meal, but not a light one. Seafood is essential, and oysters are especially abundant. About half of the country’s annual oyster production is eaten during the week from Christmas to New Year! Beyond les fruits de mer, there's plenty of game including guinea fowl, pheasant, and goose. For dessert 13 kinds of sweets are served to represent Jesus and his 12 apostles. One of the most popular sweets is buche de noel, a rolled cake decorated as a classic yule log.

 

(WATCH: How to Shuck an Oyster)
Pavlova Wreath
Photography by: Julia Gartland

Australia

Ever wonder where the notion of 'Christmas in July' comes from? You can thank our friends down under for that tradition; because July is the coldest month of Australian winter, popular Yuletide celebrations (similar to traditional Christmas festivities) take place then. Come December, when temperatures are relatively warm and humid, many Aussies will kick off their festive feasts with platters of barbecued seafood and seasonal (summer) fruits. The meal's main stars are prawns, lobsters and crayfish. In fact, the famous Sydney Fish Market sells more than 120 tons of prawns -- from king prawns and tigers to giant banana varieties -- and nearly 70,000 dozen oysters over the course of December 25. For a refreshing finish, try a classic pavlova, topped with berries, banana, and passion fruit.

 

(MAKE: Our Pavlova Meringue Wreath)
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Italy

Though menus vary greatly by region, there are sweet and savory staples found on many a traditional Italian Christmas table. In keeping with the custom of abstaining from meat before a religious holiday, the big feast for Italians on Christmas Eve is La Vigilia, the Feast of the Seven Fishes. Salted or baked cod, clams, octopus, and shrimp are served along with vegetable and pasta dishes. On Christmas Day, the main meal is lunch with tortellini soup. Among the many sweet treats on hand are panettone, amaretti, and struffoli (lemon-flavored fried dough).

 

(Get our Easy Take on the Feast of the Seven Fishes)

 

(WATCH: How to Make Panettone)
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Ethiopia

One of the oldest churches in the world is the Ethiopian Orthodox Church which follows the Julian calendar meaning Christmas falls on January 7. Leading up to this date, celebrants often follow a religious fast for 40 days, eating just one meal a day and abstainining from any meat or dairy. To break their fast, families prepare classics like kitfo (beef steak tartar) served with a spicy butter, and doro wat (meat stew). Many dishes are also eaten on a play of injera, or flatbread, which is torn off in pieces and used to scoop up meat or vegetables. Doro wat is also typically served with 12 pieces of meat and 12 hard boiled eggs, each representing the twelve apostles.

 

(WATCH: How to Make Doro Wat)
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Russia

Christmas is not celebrated until January 7th in Russia, which also follows the Julian calendar. After Christmas Eve service, celebrants will break their 40-day, meat-free fast, with a meal that includes kutya (traditional grain-based pudding), borscht, vegetable pies and Russian salad made with diced boiled potatoes, carrots, brined dill pickles, green peas, eggs, and onions. Often times, the kutya will be served out of a common bowl to symbolize unity. At the end of the meal, vzvar, a sweet drink made from fruit and honey boiled in water, is enjoyed by all to symbolize the birth of a child. And don't forget the kozuli​, traditional animal-shaped gingerbread cookies, for dessert!

 

(MAKE: Roasted Beet and Potato Borscht)
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Photography by: John Kernick

Spain

The festive season spans a nearly month in Spain. Rituals and festivities begin on December 8th with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and end on Dia de los Reyes Magos, the Feast of the Three Kings, on January 6th. The main feast is on noche buena on Christmas Eve. Tables will be set with a traditional pavo trufado de Navidad (truffle-stuffed turkey) accompanied by a seafood soup with shrimp, clams, and mussels. Other savory dishes include tapas, fish, and ham croquettes. The sweet finale includes cookies like polvoron (shortbread) and arroz con leche (rice pudding). 

 

(MAKE: Caramelized Rice Puddings)
Stuffed Cabbage with Beef and Rice
Photography by: Marcus Nilsson

Greece

A traditional Greek Christmas spread requires stuffed cabbage. Often referred to as yaiprakia in northern Greece and lahanodolmades throughout the rest of the country, this staple is made with a ground meat and rice and topped with a lemony sauce. Entrees are usually lamb or pork, though today many homes may also opt for a turkey. Traditional desserts include plenty of baklava and one sweet centerpiece: the customary christopsomo, or "Christ's Bread," that might be braided or stencilled with simple or elaborate designs. And to drink there's always Mulled Wine, heady with cinnamon, cloves, and honey.

 

(TRY: Stuffed Cabbage with Beef and Rice)
chiffon cake
Photography by: Marcus Nilsson

Japan

Thought of most as a couples’ holiday, Christmas is one of the most romantic days of the year in Japan -- think of it as an Valentine’s Day a couple of months early! Instead of hanging stockings by the chimney with care on Christmas Eve, many Japanese will be getting ready for a romantic dinner date out or a stroll through the streets completely decked out in lights. Kurisumasu keki, Japanese Christmas cake, can be found on almost every dessert menu and at street corner food stands. The seasonal specialty is a light vanilla sponge cake layered with whipped cream filling and decorated with strawberry slices. On Christmas day, rather than turkey many  Japanese families will feast on buckets of -- who knew? -- Kentucky Fried Chicken. In fact, it’s such a popular pick that orders for the fast food chain’s "holiday menu" start coming  in mid-November! 

 

(BAKE: Chiffon Cake with Strawberries and Cream)