What the Rest of the World Eats on Christmas

Christmas is a holiday celebrated around the world, but the traditions vary among countries and cultures. Even the (arguably) most important part of the Christmas celebration, the feast, differs. In the United States, people like to celebrate the holidays typically with turkey and ham. If you want to add a little cultural flavor in your celebration this year, check out some of the dishes that other countries eat on Christmas Day.

Mexico

Authentic Mexican tamales wrapped up on plates with peppers and beans
Credit: Marcos Castillo/ Shutterstock

Citizens of Mexico, along with those of several other South American countries, like to make tamales for their Christmas dinners. Tamales are made by wrapping seasoned meat and peppers into saturated corn husks. It makes the perfect holiday dinner by giving you something else to open on Christmas besides presents! Some families even host tamale-making parties, called tamaladas, on the days leading up to Christmas that involve music and snacks.

Greece

Up close view of person's hands rolling traditional yiaprakia cabbage rolls on a wooden table
Credit: Cherries/ Shutterstock

Since turkeys are native to North America, it’s not uncommon for other countries to substitute the delicious bird with other meats. In Greece, families sit down to a Christmas table with a roasted lamb as the main dish. If you head to the northern parts of the country, you might find “yiaprakia,” which are cabbage rolls stuffed with brined pork. The cabbage rolls are sometimes substituted for grape leaves.

On Christmas Eve, Greek families get together and bake a beautiful Christmas bread called Christopsomo. The bread is usually filled with nuts and fruits, then decorated with a cross and other objects that are significant for the family. The finished product is then used as a centerpiece for the Christmas dinner and a delicious dessert after.

New Zealand

Up close view of seasoned shrimp on skewers roasting over grill's open flame
Credit: Ramona Heim/ Shutterstock

While most countries associate Christmas with snow and cold, in New Zealand, Christmas is actually celebrated in the summer. Since New Zealand is in the southern hemisphere, the seasons are opposite of the countries in the northern hemisphere. December 25 is right in the middle of the summer.

Since the weather is (usually) far from frightful, New Zealanders like to celebrate Christmas with an outdoor barbecue. The less time indoors, the better! They also like to use vibrant colors and plastic plates and cutlery to make the celebration as bright and happy as possible. To have a traditional New Zealand Christmas, just throw some shrimp on the grill and relax in the sun.

Poland

Table set with various dishes and soups on Christmas Eve, a traditional Polish Wigilia
Credit: Teresa Kasprzycka/ Shutterstock

In Poland, it’s all about Christmas Eve, and they don’t hold back. Wigilia is the traditional Christmas Eve dinner. It consists of up to 11 courses that can sometimes take weeks of preparation. The entire family comes together, dressed in their best clothes to share the day and eat their favorite foods. Many of the dishes on the menu are eaten only on Christmas Eve every year. If you really like one of the dishes, you have to wait 365 days to eat it again!

Traditionally, the dishes are supposed to be meatless, but the rules have become more relaxed over the years. With 11 courses to consider, it’s no wonder that the menu tends to be quite diverse. Some courses include mushroom soup, dumplings, seafood, noodle dishes, cabbage rolls, puddings, and cookies. Make sure your belt has some extra holes in it before attending a Polish Wigilia.

Japan

Kentucky Fried Chicken storefront in Osaka, Japan featuring Christmas promotional materials
Credit: Quality Stock Arts/ Shutterstock

Until 1974, there was no traditional Christmas celebration in Japan, but a brilliant marketing strategy changed the country forever. While the rest of the world is sitting down to home-cooked meals, in Japan, an estimated 3.4 million people will head over to the local Kentucky Fried Chicken for their annual Christmas bucket of fried poultry.

The “party barrel” at KFC has become synonymous with Christmas in Japan, and to get one, it typically requires ordering weeks in advance. The tradition was started after the manager of the first KFC in Japan heard some tourists talking about how they missed having turkey for Christmas back home. He figured that turkey and chicken were close enough and decided to launch a Christmas chicken bucket. The idea took off, and today, millions of people in Japan sit down to enjoy a bucket of the Colonel’s Best every holiday season.

Share this article:

More from the Blog

Related article image

Why Is New Orleans Called the "Big Easy"?

Related article image

19 Fascinating Places in the U.S. You Never Knew Existed

Related article image

Why Some States Have "New" in Their Names