December 16, 2017 11:00 am
Christmas day is fast-approaching and with it comes the promise of presents, visitors, sing-songs and all-round festive joy. However, one of the things we all look forward to the most at this time of year is undoubtedly the food. Christmas is a time for giving, but it’s also a time when we gather around the table to enjoy a festive feast with the family. Whether it’s a main course, a dessert or just a seasonal snack, we all have our own yuletide traditions when it comes to food and we have decided to make this the focus of today’s I·ATE food feature. So sit back and whet your appetite as we take a look at a whole host of Christmas favourites from around Europe.
Let’s start with an easy one. The traditional British Christmas dinner is known all around the world and many of its elements are now considered as staples of the Christmas culinary traditions of many former British colonies. In the UK, the standard Christmas dinner is eaten in the afternoon of December 25th and consists of turkey served with cranberry sauce, roast potatoes, gravy, Yorkshire pudding, stuffing, sausage meat, vegetables (usually Brussels sprouts, parsnips, carrots and red cabbage), and pigs in blankets (sausages wrapped in bacon). Classic desserts include mince pies, trifle, Christmas cake, a yule log and Christmas pudding which is made with dried fruit.
The typical Irish Christmas dinner doesn’t differ very much from its British counterpart. However, there are still one or two notable distinctions. Firstly, Irish people like to serve ham as well as the traditional turkey. In addition to this, spiced beef is popular in some regions, particularly in the south, as it is usually only available at this time of year. Slight modifications are also sometimes made to the more traditional dishes. For example, brandy butter or sherry can be added to the trifle, and Christmas cake is usually enjoyed with a glass of whiskey.
France is a country renowned for its rich culinary history and traditions, and this is evident from the festive food typically on offer in a French home. It’s customary to begin the meal with foie gras, made from duck or goose liver. Oysters with a bit of lemon are also served and are best enjoyed with a glass of champagne. For the main course, roast chicken glazed with oranges and honey is served. It can also be prepared with chestnuts. Finally, at the end of the meal a cheese plate is provided by the host family and Bûche de Noël, which is similar to a yule log, is served with oranges for dessert.
In Germany, Christmas dinner is served on December 25th as this is seen as the first Christmas holiday. To mark this occasion, Christmas goose is typically served with dumplings and red cabbage. Germans have a lot of choice when it comes to dessert. Stollen, lebkuchen and Linzer torte are all popular options, with a number of different types of Christmas cookies also certain to be enjoyed over the festive period.
Egg-lemon chicken soup and stuffed cabbage leaves are standard starters at this time of year in Greece. In addition, stuffed turkey with potatoes is popular as a main course, but a popular alternative is to have pork as the main meat instead. To finish, a number of tasty traditional sweets and biscuits are provided including melomakarona, kourampiedes and diples.
A typical dish in Portugal is Bacalhau cozido com batatas e couves. This consists of cod cooked with potatoes and cabbage, and accompanied by boiled eggs and garlic. Different types of fish can be used depending on the region, and this meal is eaten on Christmas Eve. Starters can include Bolinhos de Bacalhau and Rissois de Camarao, and examples of popular desserts are Rabanadas and Pasteis de Nata. On Christmas day, the meals consist of meat-based dishes.
The Poles usually prepare their most traditional dishes for dinner on Christmas Eve (December 24th). It’s customary to have 12 different dishes with every guest obliged to at least taste each offering as there is an old superstition that this will guarantee happiness the following year. Interestingly, Polish people often abstain from meat and alcohol for this festive feast, opting instead for fish and wine. Another of their unique customs is to leave an empty place at the table for an unexpected guest asking for shelter. Traditional dishes include beetroot soup served with dumplings, dumplings stuffed with cabbage, sauerkraut and forest mushrooms, carp served with potatoes and braised sauerkraut with mushrooms and white beans, dried fruit compote, poppy seed cake and gingerbread with plum preserves.
Small sandwiches are often served as a starter in Denmark, and depending on the region they can contain either meat or fish. Roast pork with potatoes and red cabbage is a traditional meal at Christmas, but is also eaten throughout the year. Rice pudding served with whipped cream, vanilla, almonds and hot cherry sauce (optional) is a popular dessert for many Danes. It is also a tradition to put a whole almond into one of the puddings which is said to bring luck to the person who receives it. It is also customary to drink alcoholic shots, or snaps as they call them in Denmark.
We hope you enjoyed this article about the yuletide culinary traditions of some of the countries of Europe. Make sure to catch next week’s food term post where we’ll be exploring Christmas dishes from some other European countries.
We’d also like to take this opportunity to express gratitude to the Schuman trainees at the European Parliament whose contributions helped us to put this article together. A big thank you to Christina Timson, Nathalie Greenfield, Léo Dunand, Cornelia Stihl, Despina Derneli, Danae Kondyli, Nikolaos Gkortsilas, Anabela Veloso, and Karolina Wójcik.
- BBC News, Christmas dinners around the World. Available here [accessed on 14/12/17].
- Wikipedia, Christmas dinner. Available here [accessed on 14/12/17].
Written by Liam Kennedy – Schuman Trainee at the Terminology Coordination Unit of the European Parliament. Graduate of Journalism with a Language (French) at Dublin Institute of Technology. Completed a Masters in Translation Studies at University College Cork.
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