Holiday dinners around the world

by Lindsay D. Mattison

I don’t know about you, but I’m all about the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. This markedly indulgent time of year provides the perfect opportunity to eat (and drink) your way to New Year’s resolutions. I mean, it’s not all about the food – there’s the Christmas Tree Train for cutting down a tree in Cascade Canyon, and the opportunity to shop local in style at the Winter Solstice Artisan’s Market, too.

But really, Christmas is all about the food. Hot chocolate (which we may or may not spike with mezcal at my house), peppermint bark, cakes, cookies, and all the beef and ham your heart desires. Not to mention the diabetic-inducing sugary goodness known as eggnog – which, again, is probably boozed up with rum or whiskey. Your Christmas dinner might be marked with roast beef of some kind or honey-glazed ham (perhaps at the Mahogany Grille or Ore House if you don’t feel like cooking), but the rest of the world celebrates Christmas a bit differently, and some of these global traditions sound pretty tasty.

Japan: Kentucky ChristmasBelieve it or not, eating KFC is a long-standing tradition in Japan. Back in the ’70s, a “Kentucky for Christmas” ad campaign hit home, and today the party barrel sales account for almost a third of KFC Japan’s yearly sales. You’ll find 3.6 million Japanese families reserving their Christmas package months in advance to avoid a two-hour-plus wait on a long Christmas Day line. In addition to fried chicken, the $40 party barrel includes a traditional Christmas cake, sides, and sparkling cider or wine. Unfortunately, if you want to have a very Kentucky Christmas, you’ll have to fry your own chicken or drive to Cortez to get the real deal. Damn you, Bird’s; why aren’t you open yet??

Italy: Feast of the Seven FishesThe Festa dei Sette Pesci or La Vigilia is Italy’s famously delicious Christmas tradition. It couldn’t be more different than America’s beefy, pork-filled dinner. This gigantic dinner features seven courses, all filled with fish and seafood. There are no rules about what kind of seafood should be prepared, but it always takes place on Christmas Eve and usually includes a pasta course, soup, salad, and a few mains. Round the dinner off with a Panettone for dessert – a sweet loaf bread studded with raisins and candied orange (those leftovers make an incredible bread pudding for breakfast, by the way).

Costa Rica: TamalesIf you’ve ever prepared tamales, you know it’s a labor of love. Prepping up these tasty treats is usually a two-day process during Christmas, and Tico families use the opportunity to spend time together in the kitchen. Since there’s no such thing as creating one tamal, you’ll find the whole family arranged assembly-line style to stuff hundreds of them. One person spreads fresh masa on banana leaves while others add the prepared stuffing. The last person in line has the unenviable task of wrapping the tamales (which is harder than it looks). After they steam for hours, they’re finally ready to enjoy. No wonder they only make them for special occasions.

Philippines: LechónDoes anyone want to help me make this one happen this year? I mean, who needs ham when you can have a spit-roasted suckling pig? Filipinos are serious about Christmas – they start celebrating as early as September – and their Noche Buena feast begins after midnight mass on Christmas Eve. The star of the dinner is a brick-red, super-crunchy roasted pig. If you don’t want to roast it yourself, you have to reserve it as far as six weeks in advance.

Armenia: GhapamaYou’ve probably never thought of celebrating Christmas with a pumpkin, but that’s exactly what an Armenian Christmas feast looks like. Like other Eastern Orthodox countries, the festivities don’t take place until January 7th (Christmas Day on the old Julian calendar). The main course is a vegetarian dish featuring a roasted pumpkin stuffed with rice, raisins, nuts, and honey. It’s sweet and visually stunning, so make sure to have a camera ready to make everyone on your Insta feed jealous.

Sweden: JulbordCan you imagine spending Christmas inside an Ikea? That’s precisely what julbord looks like. It’s a gigantic buffet (most likely served up on an immaculately stylish table with cute little serving dishes). On the table, you’ll find cured fish (pickled herring, anyone?), cold cuts, ham, sausage, and a meatball and potato casserole known as Janssons frestelse. It’s not a very kind meal for vegetarians, but it’s a pork-lovers dream.

I don’t know about you, but I’m having a hard time deciding which alternative Christmas feast I should make. I might have to go crazy and make one for each day of Christmas…

Lindsay D. Mattison is a professional chef and food writer living in Durango. She enjoys long walks in the woods, the simplicity of New York-style cheese pizza, and she’s completely addicted to Chapstick. Contact her at [email protected].


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