December 19, 2012 at 12:02 PM

Christmas Feasts Around the World

"...there is much more to traditional Christmas feasts than a roasted, stuffed bird"

By Lynn Cline

Gourmet Girl

Lynn Cline is a former food editor and the author of two books – Romantic Days and Nights in Santa Fe and Literary Pilgrims: The Santa Fe and Taos Writers' Colonies, 1915-1950. She also loves to cook, when not dining out.

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For centuries, Christmas has been celebrated around the world with feasts that showcase an array of intriguing ingredients. The traditional holiday dinner in America features a roasted turkey served with stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy and other trimmings, but did you know that in Peru, the Christmas turkey is stuffed with ground beef and peanuts? That Australians often serve barbecue since Christmas falls during their summer, and that in Iceland they eat roast reindeer for Christmas?

Let's take a look at some of the world's Christmas tables in various countries. You will see that there is much more to traditional Christmas feasts than a roasted, stuffed bird.

To find the origins of the turkey dinner at the American table, we have to look all the way back to medieval England, where the main course for Christmas dinner was either a peacock or a boar. The turkey didn't show up on the silver platter until the 16th century. In fact, King Henry VIII was the first English king to serve turkey on Christmas. The British are also know for Christmas pudding, which dates all the way back to medieval England, as well as trifle, mince pies and the Yule Log.

Back on this side of the pond, Americans have adopted most of their Christmas customs from the British, including the roast turkey, ham, stuffing and Christmas pudding.  Depending on your family's preferences, the Christmas dinner could feature a ham, roast beef, goose or turkey. In Virginia, the feast includes ham pie, oysters and biscuits, in the tradition of the state's 17th-century English founders. In the Midwest, Scandinavians have left their influence in dishes such as lutefisk, mashed rutabaga and elk, possum and quail.

Because Australia is located in the southern hemisphere, and Christmas falls in summer, barbecue is often served at the Christmas feast, along with prawns, lobster, crayfish and other seafood.

The French celebrate Christmas with a reveillon, a long dinner and party held on Christmas Eve. Diners feast past midnight on multiple courses that include lobster, oysters, escargot, foie gras, turkey with chestnuts and the bùche de Noel. In Provence, they serve 13 desserts

In the Nederlands,  a unique Dutch tradition known as "gourmet" brings guests together around a gourmet set, where they use their own small frying pan to cook and season small portions of food, including finely chopped vegetables, meat, fish, shrimp. The mean includes salads, sauces and fruit.

The Swedes really know how to throw a Christmas party with their three-course smorgasbord, consisting of fish, usually pickled herring and salmon eaten with boiled potatoes or crisp bread; cold cuts including sausage, head cheese and the Christmas ham; and hot dishes such as meatballs, Janssons frestelse and small fried sausages.

In Denmark, they dine on roast pork with crackling, goose, duck, and dessert of Risalamande, rice pudding with cherry or strawberry sauce, and a whole almond hidden inside. Whoever finds the almond earns an extra present. The feast includes glogg (a spiced wine and aquavit drink) and traditional Christmas beer.

In Iceland, it's customary to enjoy Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve at 18:00. The feast includes reindeer, duck, and smoked lamb.

In Poland, the Christmas feast is served on Christmas Eve, and is called Wigilia. After the first star appears in the sky, everyone has an oplatek, or Christmas wafer, and shares good wishes for the New Year. The feast traditionally includes 12 dishes, in honor of the 12 apostles, including fried carp, creamed herring, stuffed carp, boiled potatoes, fruit compote, pierniczki, or honey ginger cookies, and makowiec, or poppy seed rolled cake. Often, an empty plate is set for an unexpected guest and straw or hay is put on the table as a symbol of the manger.

Slovakians traditionally enjoy their Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve, feasting on oplátky (thin waffles with honey or garlic), cabbage soup with mushrooms and sausage (sometimes with dry plums), carp or other fish with potato salad, apples and Christmas biscuits.

In Peru, turkey is a holiday staple, but it's stuffed with peanuts and ground beef, decorated with fresh pineapple slices and served with white rice seasoned with garlic. Dessert includes pannetone and a cup of  thick hot chocolate.

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