Traditions. We all have them, however weird and wonderful they might be. Cultural, geographical, religious or familial, they’re all of equal importance. For many people, they make up a core of who they are. But, what about our beloved Christmas?
Christmas doesn’t directly translate to turkey and all the trimmings. It means something completely malleable. That’s the real beauty of it. Like all good days, Christmas is framed around food.
They don’t do things by halves in Italy, with part of the country embracing the tradition of the feast of the seven fishes. Yeah, it is what you think. Seven different fish prepared in seven different ways to celebrate Christmas. The types of fish usually include salt cod and calamari, amongst others. Now that’s a lot of prep. They don’t stop there; an Italian Christmas isn’t complete without panettone. The light and fluffy citrus loaf cake arrive in beautiful packaging on the lead up to the festivities. Its origins date back to Milan in the Middle Ages, although there is a lot of speculation surrounding the iconic cake’s history.
They really up the anti in Lithuania, preparing Kūčios to mark Christmas Eve, which translates to 12 dishes and can take up to a week to prepare. As part of the ritual, the home is cleaned thoroughly and all guests must bathe and dress in clean clothes before the evening banquet. Before the meal can begin, everyone at the table takes part in a forgiveness routine – making peace with all. The 12 dishes represent the 12 months of the year, and traditionally the first dish is served upon the sighting of the first star. Most Lithuanian’s refrain from eating meat as part of this celebration.
In Japan, Christmas is a time of happiness, rather than a religious celebration. Christmas Eve is more widely celebrated and is considered a romantic day for couples to exchange gifts and share some one-on-one time. Fast-forward to Christmas Day and you’ll be greeted with fried chicken. Making it the busiest time for outlets like KFC.
Moving east to Israel and fried potato pancakes (Latkes) are all the rage. As part of Hanukkah, there are also other fried delicacies in the festive round-up. A popular choice for many, Israel offers a gateway to the past – whether that’s visiting Nazareth or Bethlehem, it’s a sure-fire way to feel closer to the religious holiday. But, don’t expect decoration galore, or you will be disappointed.
Christmas is Costa Rica’s most widely celebrated holiday, despite its tropical landscape. What it lacks in snow, it sure makes up for in Christmas spirit. San Jose is transformed into a winter wonderland come December. Colourful lights line the city, and festive shows and performances commence. What about the food? Tamales is a dish of seasoned meat rolled in cornmeal dough and wrapped in banana leaves. The dish is traditional in dozens of countries around Central and South America, but there are slight nuances. The preparation and cooking aren’t for everyone, and fortunately, they can also be picked up from supermarkets too.
In Portugal, traditional Christmas Eve dining comprises bacalhau (salted cod), potatoes, cabbage, carrots and hard-boiled eggs. The meal is followed by a church service and assembling the nativity scene. Salt cod makes an appearance on Christmas Eve in most countries where Roman Catholicism is the majority religion. In parts of Mexico too. This takes the form of Bacalao a la Mexicana. Mixed with tomato, ancho chillies, onions, potatoes and olives, this fiery dish is a true winter warmer.
The humble Yule log. A saviour for those who have never been quite able to embrace Christmas pudding or Christmas cake. But, La Bûche de Noël started out as something much more in France. This dessert represents the ancient Christmas tradition of burning a single dense log in the hearth to provide optimum warmth. This one can certainly be observed further afield.
Sweet treats are firm favourites across the board to mark festive celebrations. Greece’s melomakarona, sweet honey and nut cookies, come in many festive flavour combinations – with hints of orange, chocolate and cinnamon. Kołaczki are Poland’s filled answer to the festive period. They call for a generous helping of jam, traditionally apricot or strawberry and are simple to make in bulk.
If you thought Christmas music in November was a bit much, you’d certainly struggle in the Philippines. Carolling has been known to commence here as early as September. As one of two predominantly Christian countries in Asia, Christmas is one of the biggest holidays on the island. Food ranges from sweet hams to delicious flans, covering all the pasta dishes in between. Puto Bumbong, a purple-coloured rice cake, is the most sought-after local delicacy during the holidays. When it is on offer, hoards of people follow.
Whatever climate you’re in and whatever feast you’re tucking into come the 25th (or the 24th) of December, savour every moment.