Ever wondered what the French, Italians, or even Bulgarians are eating for their Christmas dinner? Whilst the celebration of Christmas is widespread across Europe, traditions vary not just country to country, but between regions and even families. Each European Christmas Dinner has one thing in common though – they are all Christmas feasts!
Northern European Christmas Dinner
Swedish Christmas Dinner
Christmas is predominantly celebrated on the 24th in Sweden. A Julbord is prepared for the big lunch, which is essentially a buffet. Fish is one of the most important parts of this meal, especially herring (served a number of different ways), as well as salmon in various forms. Cold cuts (look out for deer or elk sausages) and cheeses are popular, as well as eggs and Swedish caviar. Vegetables such as potatoes, red cabbage, and beetroot can be found as well.
One of the most important traditions of this Christmas meal, is sitting down to watch Donald Duck’s Christmas after eating.
British Christmas Dinner
The two most important days of Christmas feasting take place on the 25th and 26th. The 25th is the traditional Christmas Dinner. Starters vary between households, but usually involve lots of foreign influence. Some start with smoked salmon blinis, others chinese spring rolls and dumplings – there really is no strict tradition here!
The main usually consists of roast Turkey with all the ‘trimmings’. The most popular ‘trimmings’ include; roast potatoes (cooked in goose fat), roast parsnips, stuffing, pigs in blankets (sausages wrapped in bacon – a national favourite), red cabbage, gravy, cauliflower cheese, cranberry sauce, and of course brussel sprouts (sometimes served with bacon and chestnuts). During the meal crackers are pulled, cheesy jokes told, and paper crowns are worn.
For dessert, there are usually a number of options, including chocolate pudding, mince pies, chocolate Yule Log, and the traditional Christmas pudding. This is a fruit pudding soaked in alcohol (usually brandy) and lit on fire before being served. Following the international theme, Panettone and Stollen have become popular choices as an after dinner sweet in recent years. Cheese and crackers is also an after-dinner must. The drink of choice is usually sparkling wine, and the irish cream liqueur Bailey’s is a popular throughout the season.
Boxing day is another important day of eating. Traditionally, there is a roast ham which is eaten with all the leftovers. It is a very relaxed day, where kids play with all their new toys and parents recover from the stresses of the previous day in bed. TV channels play family favourite films whilst crazy shoppers rush to the Boxing Day sales.
Western European Christmas Dinner
French Christmas Dinner
Christmas dinner in France is a lavish affair, as the French aren’t afraid to splash out to celebrate the occasion. The big dinner is held on the 24th, following the Christmas ‘midnight’ mass. Foie gras, oysters, and smoked salmon can all be commonly found on the dinner table. Lobster and caviar are reserved for the most wealthy, as they cost too much even for those looking to splash out. Turkey is eaten too, with special chestnut stuffing.
For dessert you will likely have the option of Bûche de Noël, the original Yule Log cake. If you are in Provence however, you will be spoilt for choice with the 13 desserts tradition. Of course, no French Christmas Dinner is complete without plenty of champagne. This is one aspect of the meal where the expense is certainly not spared.
German Christmas Dinner
Christmas Eve is the beginning of the grand celebrations in Germany, with the erection of the Christmas tree, accompanied by some amazing food. Raclette has become popular in more recent times – this consists of an electric Raclette grill, used to melt individual portions of cheese on small broiling trays, as well as cooking meats and vegetables. Although customary to avoid meat before Christmas Day, meats such as bacon and sausages can be found cooking on the raclette.
The official Christmas Dinner in Germany takes place on the 25th. Goose and Duck are popular meats, often accompanied by apple and sausage stuffing. Red cabbage and potato dumplings are popular side dishes, topped with a healthy portion of gravy. Stollen, a sweet fruit bread, is a popular traditional German xmas sweet, and has grown in popularity across Europe over the last century. The most popular brand in Germany is Dresdner Stollen.
Southern European Christmas Dinner
Italian Christmas Dinner
Just like France, Italians have a big meal on Christmas Eve (but continue with the festive feasts until the 26th). In the south (and now the US), the Feast of 7 Fishes (Esta dei Sette Pesci) is the most popular repast on the 24th. You’ll find a variety of dishes, including swordfish, eel, octopus, and the famous ‘baccalà’ (salted cod).
Christmas Day is the most important meal throughout the festive period, and it can last for hours. There are several courses, starting with antipasti spread, then pasta, then meat and finishing with Panettone or Pandoro. The particular meat or pasta dishes vary from North to South; baked pasta is a must in the southern region, whereas lasagne is more popular as you travel north.
Spanish Christmas Dinner
In Spain, Christmas dinner is prepared on the night of December 24th. Depending on the region, you eat different dishes – although they are all delicious. In some areas of Spain, the most popular dishes consist of seafood, although it can be very expensive when crabs, scallops and prawns are included. Seafood is an entreé that in other areas is replaced by soup or salad. The main course also depends on the region, but some of the most famous include chicken or stuffed turkey (such as Rodó de nadal in Catalonia), Cod with cauliflower and bacon with turnips. After eating the main course, there is still room for desserts! No matter where you are in Spain, you can find the festive sweet turrón.
Dinner starts between 9:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m. You then spend the night with the family, singing Christmas carols (villancicos), playing cards, or watching television until midnight when Santa Claus arrives! Everyone opens their presents, although the little ones open them the morning of the next day.
On December 25th, usually you have lunch with the whole family, including those who could not join on Christmas Eve. During this day in Catalonia is typical to prepare Canalons.
Eastern European Christmas Dinner
Bulgarian Xmas Dinner
In traditionally Christian countries such as Bulgaria, you should not eat meat before Christmas Day. For the Christmas Eve meal, families should have either 7 (the most repeated number in the bible), 9 (a biblical number relating to the 9 months of pregnancy) or 11 (no. apostles minus Judas) dishes on the table (desserts included). Some of the traditional dishes for this meal include stuffed peppers, stuffed cabbage leaves, beans, and lutenitsa (pepper & tomato dip).
One of the most important traditions is the round bread with a coin hidden inside. The oldest family member will turn the bread three times and break it in equal pieces for everyone. The one who gets the coin is supposed to come into good (monetary) fortune.
On the 25th the Christmas lunch includes meat. The type of meat (pork, lamb, or turkey) depends on how much money you can spend on Christmas dinner.
Czech Xmas Dinner
As with many other European countries, Christmas is celebrated on the 24th in the Czech Republic. The day is not only spent preparing food, but it is also the day you (traditionally) decorate the tree. For breakfast, the traditional food is Vánočka, a sweet bread made with raisins. For some families though, they fast all day to make sure they have room for dinner!
The dinner is made up of potato salad with fried fish. The fish is usually Carp, sometimes so fresh that families buy it live, keep it in the bath tub for a few days and kill it specially for the big day. Afterwards, homemade christmas cookies – vánoční cukroví – are eaten.
Lithuanian Xmas Dinner
As in Bulgaria, on the 24th of December Lithuanians should not eat meat, only fish. This becomes very apparent at the meals as most dishes are made out of fish, especially herring (a Lithuanian favourite). There must be 12 different dishes on the table and each person should try all of them. Before starting dinner someone says a prayer and the family shares one big eucharist that the priest provides. Normally this day is very calm and quiet.
The 25th is the most important day in the Lithuanian festive calendar. Most people go to church followed by a big lunch with friends and family with all types of foods and drinks.
Montenegrin Xmas Dinner
6th of January is the day in which Christmas Eve is celebrated in Montenegro. Depending on the family and region, the meal may consist of bakalar (cod) with potatoes, tuna salad, prebranac (a layered bean and onion dish), meatless sarma (stuffed cabbage), djuvece (a rice-and-vegetable casserole). For sweets, fresh and dried fruits are eaten, as well as cookies made without dairy or eggs.
Christmas Dinner takes place on 7th January. The meal is lavish with pecenica (roast pork), meat sarma (stuffed cabbage), baked ham, sausage, roast potatoes, and parslied potatoes. There are plenty of desserts — nut roll, cheese strudel, apple strudel, drum torte – fresh & dried fruits and, of course, slivovitz rakija and strong, dark Turkish coffee.
Hopefully you’ve learnt from these Christmas feasts that there is not one European Christmas Dinner, but many different to choose from. Are you inspired to make any of these dishes yourself?