Better to Cook than Consume: Christmas Food Traditions from Around the World

 

While most of us are still running around the malls, scooping up gifts for friends and families, the Christmas feast is just as important a tradition as the presents around the tree. Anglophenia’s Kate Arnell shares yuletide food traditions from around the globe in this entertaining video:

Note to self: If ever spending Christmas abroad, choose India over Iceland.

My maternal lineage is Finnish, and their traditions are hardly better than Iceland’s. Lipeäkala (the Suomi version of lutefisk), Maksalaatikko (liver casserole), and Salmiakki (black licorice flavored with ammonium chloride [yes, really]), are popular treats, which might explain nordic nation’s high rate of clinical depression.

I’ve brought a couple less disgusting Finnish-American traditions into our Christmas experience. I usually get a large order of Korppu shipped in from a tiny bakery in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. While not a Christmas staple per se, it is basically a rusk covered in cinnamon sugar with goes wonderfully with a strong cup of black coffee or milk for the kids.

If I’m feeling extra motivated, I bake a couple loaves of Nisu, which is a lightly sweetened bread flavored with a touch of cardamom (I also add raisins).

What are your Christmas food traditions and where did they come from?

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There are 15 comments.

  1. Mike Rapkoch Member

    We prepare a somewhat revisionist version of a Polish tradition. I don’t remember the name of the dish. It comes down to us from my father in law who had the not the least bit Polish last name Szczepanski(-:

    You boil pork, ham, and kielbasa in a combination of water and vinegar. It sounds awful, but it’s actually addictive. However, to avoid the certain cardiovascular implications, it is only served on Christmas and Easter.

    • #1
    • December 20, 2015, at 2:27 PM PDT
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  2. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Moderator

    Do you do Mämmi at Easter?

    German Stollen (pronounced with sht-, contrary to the lovely Kate’s diction) and Italian panettone can be rather alike – at least, if you’ve tragically ended up with a Stollen that lacks a marzipan filling! I didn’t know the hump had anything to do with camels, though – I thought it was the natural result of trying to stuff so much marzipan into a pastry.

    Our typical Christmas meal is basically a Thanksgiving meal, but with more mulled wine – and cookies. Lebkuchen or Pfeffernüsse – both German names for what I’m given to understand are pretty common types of gingerbread or spice cookie throughout Europe – are generally present.

    We have one strange food custom that may at some point in future generations discreetly kick the bucket – we’ll see. People keep claiming to like it, and it is a family recipe… It’s not disgusting per se, just strange that it keeps getting made while tastier family recipes sit gathering dust.

    • #2
    • December 20, 2015, at 3:24 PM PDT
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  3. Percival Thatcher

    Jon Gabriel, Ed.: Lipeäkala (the Suomi version of lutefisk), Maksalaatikko (liver casserole), and Salmiakki (black licorice flavored with ammonium chloride [yes, really]), are popular treats, which might explain nordic nation’s high rate of clinical depression.

    They probably have issues with malnutrition too. Finland has its own version of lutefisk? Yikes.

    Lefse, on the other hand, is pretty good.

    • #3
    • December 20, 2015, at 4:22 PM PDT
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  4. Western Chauvinist Member

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: Our typical Christmas meal is basically a Thanksgiving meal, but with more mulled wine – and cookies. Lebkuchen or Pfeffernüsse – both German names for what I’m given to understand are pretty common types of gingerbread or spice cookie throughout Europe – are generally present.

    Have you ever tried to make Pfeffernüsse? It’s not like any gingerbread I’ve ever experienced. My husband’s grandmother’s recipe — authentic old world — took over my kitchen with what must have been a combined tonnage of flour and molasses weighing 20 pounds and was uncontrollable on my large work area. Something like The Blob. I thought I’d have to call the HAZMAT team.

    Definitely one to order in.

    • #4
    • December 20, 2015, at 4:47 PM PDT
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  5. Charlotte Member

    This isn’t an ethnic thing, but one of our holiday food traditions is shrimp cocktail on Christmas Eve. My mom’s family was pretty financially strapped for most of her childhood (this would have been Michigan in the mid-50s to the mid-60s), but Christmas was one of the few times the family splurged on fancy food. In that place and at that time, shrimp cocktail was an almost impossibly decadent treat. To this day we enjoy old-school shrimp cocktail in front of the fire every December 24.

    • #5
    • December 20, 2015, at 4:51 PM PDT
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  6. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Moderator

    Western Chauvinist: Have you ever tried to make Pfeffernüsse? It’s not like any gingerbread I’ve ever experienced.

    I made another family’s recipe once with a college friend. And that recipe was like no gingerbread I’ve ever experienced – it was very pale, not molassesey at all, and not very peppery… sort of the minimum amount of spice to even qualify as a spice cookie. I thought those were strange.

    We have a family recipe, but no one’s tried making it since I was born – maybe for the reasons you mention. Our Pfeffernüsse, if present, are store-bought.

    • #6
    • December 20, 2015, at 5:01 PM PDT
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  7. Jon Gabriel, Ed. Chief
    Jon Gabriel, Ed. Post author

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake:Do you do Mämmi at Easter?

    German Stollen (pronounced with sht-, contrary to the lovely Kate’s diction) and Italian panettone can be rather alike – at least, if you’ve tragically ended up with a Stollen that lacks a marzipan filling! I didn’t know the hump had anything to do with camels, though – I thought it was the natural result of trying to stuff so much marzipan into a pastry.

    Our typical Christmas meal is basically a Thanksgiving meal, but with more mulled wine – and cookies. Lebkuchen or Pfeffernüsse – both German names for what I’m given to understand are pretty common types of gingerbread or spice cookie throughout Europe – are generally present.

    We have one strange food custom that may at some point in future generations discreetly kick the bucket – we’ll see. People keep claiming to like it, and it is a family recipe… It’s not disgusting per se, just strange that it keeps getting made while tastier family recipes sit gathering dust.

    I’ve never tried Mämmi, but it sounds like it’s worth a shot. Love Stollen and Pfeffernüsse, though. (I’m German on my dad’s side, so I need to bring that background in as well.)

    • #7
    • December 20, 2015, at 7:14 PM PDT
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  8. Kim K. Member

    My husband’s Dutch family has a tradition of making stroopwafels around Christmastime. Interestingly, we use a pizzelle iron (not Dutch!) to to press the cookies. One person’s job is rolling the dough into balls, another person presses them on the iron, another takes them while they are hot and cuts them in half (the most challenging job), and the next person ladles hot syrup between the halves and sandwiches them back together. Good thing the recipe makes a lot, because you wouldn’t want to do it more than once a year.

    • #8
    • December 20, 2015, at 9:07 PM PDT
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  9. Percival Thatcher

    Charlotte:This isn’t an ethnic thing, but one of our holiday food traditions is shrimp cocktail on Christmas Eve. My mom’s family was pretty financially strapped for most of her childhood (this would have been Michigan in the mid-50s to the mid-60s), but Christmas was one of the few times the family splurged on fancy food. In that place and at that time, shrimp cocktail was an almost impossibly decadent treat. To this day we enjoy old-school shrimp cocktail in front of the fire every December 24.

    My family does the same thing, except with oysters. Or rather, the ones that were around for the Depression go crazy for oysters. The rest of us won’t go near the things.

    • #9
    • December 20, 2015, at 9:36 PM PDT
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  10. Western Chauvinist Member

    Percival: My family does the same thing, except with oysters. Or rather, the ones that were around for the Depression go crazy for oysters. The rest of us won’t go near the things.

    Oh, sheesh, I had almost forgotten. Mom and Dad were Greatest Generation Depression era kids. Mom made oyster stew as the soup course for Christmas dinner. They loved it! As the last of their seven children, I was trained to politely refrain from saying “Eww!” as I chased one of the cooked eyeballs around in the milky broth with my spoon.

    Never did manage to catch one.

    • #10
    • December 21, 2015, at 7:25 AM PDT
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  11. Percival Thatcher

    Western Chauvinist:

    Percival: My family does the same thing, except with oysters. Or rather, the ones that were around for the Depression go crazy for oysters. The rest of us won’t go near the things.

    Oh, sheesh, I had almost forgotten. Mom and Dad were Greatest Generation Depression era kids. Mom made oyster stew as the soup course for Christmas dinner. They loved it! As the last of their seven children, I was trained to politely refrain from saying “Eww!” as I chased one of the cooked eyeballs around in the milky broth with my spoon.

    Never did manage to catch one.

    Oyster stew it was. One year they made an oyster stuffing as well. That only lasted one year, fortunately.

    • #11
    • December 21, 2015, at 7:39 AM PDT
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  12. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Moderator

    What’s funny about oysters and lobsters (and probably shrimps, too) is that, before the invention of refrigerated rail cars, they were considered poor folk’s protein in coastal areas (rather like the aquatic version of eating insects). If the Depression had happened earlier, then, they wouldn’t have been considered a special treat.

    During the Depression, salmon was also considered a poverty food, at least in regions near the Pacific northwest. The rise of public-works hydroelectric dams helped put a stop to that, though.

    • #12
    • December 21, 2015, at 8:04 AM PDT
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  13. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher

    Ham! and Black Eyed Peas! And Greens!

    Don’t need none of that furin’ food down here.

    :)

    • #13
    • December 21, 2015, at 8:26 AM PDT
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  14. Percival Thatcher

    Bryan G. Stephens:Ham! and Black Eyed Peas! And Greens!

    Don’t need none of that furin’ food down here.

    :)

    I thought black eyed peas was a New Years thing.

    • #14
    • December 21, 2015, at 8:43 AM PDT
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  15. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher

    Percival:

    Bryan G. Stephens:Ham! and Black Eyed Peas! And Greens!

    Don’t need none of that furin’ food down here.

    :)

    I thought black eyed peas was a New Years thing.

    Well, technically, they is, but I am not about to waste a sit down meal without ’em.

    • #15
    • December 21, 2015, at 8:47 AM PDT
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