festive eating around the world

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Feliz Navidad! The winter tradition of getting the family together, giving gifts, and celebrating religious ties is deeply rooted in almost every culture in the world. As we all come together this winter and celebrate, we have traditional foods unique to our family and heritage. Here are some of the celebratory foods I’d like to know more about. In the years to come, I’m going to …

… fix some of these foods as part of my family’s celebration. After 30 years of our usual fare, I’m ready to do a little steppin’ out. (Although, every Christmas my children’s version of the year I served tofu turkey gets more and more elaborate over time—it wasn’t at all edible; it was badly burned; it had gritty sand in it; the house stank for a week afterward; not even the dog would eat it …)

Here’s my start for changing my menu. (Okay, so I’ve been a little hesitant.)

Denmark – This year I’m going to try roasted chesnuts with salt and butter. I’m pretty sure I’m the only lover of traditional Christmas carols who has never tried this. Consider this a confession. Does it count that I have let Jack Frost nip my nose?

Sweden – How about this? Mmmmm, bread slices dipped in the leftover ham broth after boiling the Christmas ham. Sounds like a kind of French dip sandwich.

Belgium – The “bread of Jesus” is a sweet bread made with flour, eggs, milk, yeast, raisins, and sugar. Usually, it is given to children and enjoyed with a cup of hot chocolate. But what adult wouldn’t also love a cup of homemade hot chocolate—the real deal, made from scratch?

England -A goose is usually eaten, and presents opened after attending mass. Now, where does the saying, “cooked her goose” come in to play here?

Danish christmas dinner with traditional christmas dishes. Duck with stuffing made of apples and prunes, roast pork with crackling, potatoes fried in caramel, sweet and sour red cabbage and gravy. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. Malene.

Finland – The main dish of the dinner is lutefisk, which is codfish that has been soaked in lye, then soaked in water to rid it of the lye, then boiled or baked. It is served with a cream sauce, allspice, oftentimes lefse, and an assortment of vegetables and potatoes. Not sure I’ll love this one, but for some reason I have to say I tried it. Maybe we’ll listen to old tapes of Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion as we eat it. 

Japan – Because my son, daughter-in-law, and toddler son live in Japan, their Japanese-style Christmas cake is at the top of my list next year. It’s a sponge cake frosted with whipped cream, topped with strawberries, and then surrounded by chocolate that says Merry Christmas. In other words, we’ll be skype-ing as we eat cake. Not bad.

Israel – Hanukkah is an eight-day Jewish holiday celebrated by the lighting of the menorah. Jelly-filled doughnuts and latkas—fried potato pancakes are some of the many foods eaten. Our farmhand Kim, has Jewish heritage but also celebrates a traditional Christmas. So, her family celebrates Chrismukkah. It’s not uncommon for blended families to also have blended faiths. I spent some time looking for its origins. Some say it was started by Jewish families in the 19th century wanting to celebrate the secular traditions of Christmas; the tree, the stocking, the songs. Many stories I read were about interfaith families wanting to celebrate Hanukkah and Christmas in a way that was respectful to both traditions. Chrismukkah for Kim is about singing carols, spinning dreidels (a game played during Hanukkah using a four-sided spinning top), decorating a tree, lighting candles, making Latkes and Challah but most important of all, being with family and friends.

So, what’s it going to be?
Gingerbread or matzoh house?
Candy canes or chocolate gelt?
Figgy pudding or gefilte fish?
Latkes or fruitcake?
Spin the dreidel or get kissed under the mistletoe?

Dominican Republic – The table usually includes a oval-shaped bread called telera that is about six inches long, with a crunchy crust and soft inside. I’m going to add sunflower seeds to my version.

Czech Republic and Slovakia – People fast, only eating perhaps a little bit of sauerkraut soup. Many hope to see the “golden piglet” during this time, which brings good luck. I’m pretty sure I can’t get my family to go along with the fasting part of this tradition, but sauerkraut soup sounds delicious. I think I’ll add some spicy sausage (not exactly a golden piglet). Garlic is an essential part of their Christmas and should never be missing in the dinner. It is believed to provide strength and protection. A bowl of garlic is placed under the Christmas dinner table. No lights should be lit in the house before the first star comes out. After it does, dinner is served. Also, the table should be set for an even number of guests. An odd number brings bad luck. No problem, an extra plate can be used to even out the number of guests. An extra plate should be prepared anyway in case an unexpected guest or a person in need comes by the house at dinner time. No alcohol should be served on Christmas Eve. Any leftovers from dinner should be buried around the trees to ensure they will bear lots of fruit. What? No leftovers the next day?

If any of you have any recipe advice, please don’t hesitate!

Leave a comment One Comment

  1. Kathy says:

    Love your magazine and website!

    I am a “real” farm girl, having been raised on a 2,000 acre wheat and barley ranch in Eastern WA. We also had a large scale operation raising market cattle and hogs, owned several horses, maintained a large flock of chickens, milking cows, and always had an endless supply of barn cats, along with the typical farm dog.

    We kids stayed very busy with 4-H, Campfire Girls, the Grange, and raised a huge garden with fruit trees and berries. I attended a 3-room country school and feel I was fortunate growing up like I did.

    My comment is this: having both 100% maternal Norwegian Grandparents and 100% paternal Finnish Grandparents in my bloodline, I wish to correct your description of Lutefisk and Lefse. Both are Norwegian delicacies not Finnish. For the record, keep the Lutefisk but I absolutely love the lefse!

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