See traditional Christmas and New Year’s favorites from different countries, along with festive holiday table decor.
U.S. and Canada: Turkey and Sides
In the United States and Canada, the Christmas table is built around roast turkey or duck — the latter being especially popular in New England and on the East Coast. Honey-glazed ham and roast beef are other favorites. All are served with a variety of side dishes.
United Kingdom: Mince Pie and Brandy Pudding
The main Christmas meal in the U.K. consists of stuffed fowl — usually turkey, goose or duck — accompanied by bacon, potatoes with other vegetables, Brussels sprouts, gravy and cranberry sauce.
Of course, no meal would be complete without dessert. Mince pie, containing a dried fruit mix known as mincemeat, is a mainstay. The Christmas cake is a fruitcake soaked in whiskey or brandy, often topped with an almond glaze and embellished with edible and inedible decor.
Brandy and other liquors are also added to another dessert, Christmas pudding, which is served with a brandy butter.
France: Turkey, Yule Log and King Cake
French tables on Christmas and New Year’s Eve feature foie gras, oysters, snails and salmon. The main course is turkey with chestnuts. Dessert is a bûche de Noël, thin spongecake rolled up and frosted to look like a yule log.
The French also celebrate Epiphany (Jan. 6), the day when the Magi brought gifts to baby Jesus. The main dish on this holiday is galette des rois (galette of kings), a cake made of puff pastry and almond cream, with a figurine hidden inside. It is usually eaten with friends or colleagues, and the person who finds the surprise becomes the king or queen for the day. The cake kit is often sold along with a paper crown for the winner.
Germany: All About the Cookies
The German Christmas dinner menu varies from family to family and could be duck or fondue or raclette. According to our German colleagues, even simple sausage and potato salad can be the main course on Christmas Eve — no one dish stands out as the dinner staple.
Denmark and Sweden: Potatoes, Pancakes and Pudding With a Surprise
The traditional Danish Christmas Eve menu includes roast duck or roast pork with a garnish of hot pickled red cabbage, white boiled potatoes, and potatoes browned in butter and sugar served with gravy on the side.
A beloved Danish December treat is aebleskiver (apple slices), a dish of small pancake puffs served with icing sugar and marmalade on the side. Traditionally, a slice of apple was put into each pancake before baking, hence the name.
Dessert is risalamande, a cold rice pudding served in a large bowl with slices of almonds, vanilla and hot cherry sauce. A single whole almond is hidden somewhere inside, and the person who finds it gets a special gift.
Across the bridge, the Swedes also like to have a hearty Christmas dinner of meatballs, pickled herring, Västerbotten cheese, potatoes, a kind of cracker called knäckebröd, beet root salad and sausage.
Bulgaria: Cheese-Filled Pie With Extra Blessings
Traditional winter holiday dishes in Bulgaria are cabbage rolls and banitsa, a large pastry filled with sirene (brined cheese). As with many festive pastries, banitsa recipes are often closely guarded family secrets with one thing in common: On Christmas, Bulgarians put lucky charms or pieces of paper with blessings for good health, love, a car or any other wishes into the dough. Some people put in coins as a blessing for financial well-being, and bake these in as well. All lucky additives are wrapped in foil so that they can survive the baking process and be spotted easily.
Russia: Olivier Salad, Caviar and Tangerines
Russians love to celebrate the new year with family or friends around a table laid with festive snacks. The main culinary draw, without which the holiday would not be the same, is Olivier salad. The basic recipe involves potatoes, eggs, meat and cucumbers or pickles, but from there, each family has its own twist. People can argue for hours over whether to use mayonnaise (homemade or store-bought) or sour cream, sausage or boiled chicken or meat and pickles or fresh cucumbers, and whether to add grated green apple, carrots or peas. This is the real symbol of Russian New Year’s celebrations, prepared in such quantities that families eat the leftovers for the rest of the week.
The salad was invented by Lucien Olivier, who was head chef of the Hermitage restaurant in Moscow in the 1860s. At the time, the base of eggs and potatoes was augmented with delicacies like partridge, hazel grouse, calf’s tongue, crayfish, black caviar, capers, pickles and truffles. The recipe was simplified in Soviet times: The fancy meats were replaced with sausage or boiled meat, pickles filled in for capers, and green peas were added.
Another popular salad is nicknamed “herring under a fur coat.” It consists of pieces of herring layered in onions, potatoes, carrots and beets, each covered in mayonnaise.
Other mainstays are caviar and slices of red fish. Some families prefer open-face sandwiches with butter and caviar; others stuff the caviar into cooked egg whites. Kholodetz (meat in aspic), served in a cold broth and with horseradish or mustard, is another favorite. It is usually made of pig’s legs and ears, and it takes at least six hours to prepare.
Another item that appears without fail on New Year’s tables is the tangerine. In Soviet times, Abkhaz tangerines, which ripen by December, were the main fruit served on New Year’s. For many Russians, the New Year holiday is not the same without the scents of tangerine and fir.
International foodies certainly can get behind the tradition of osechi ryori, a set of traditional New Year’s dishes prepared in advance so that the chef of the house doesn’t have to cook for the first three days of the year. The foods often are bought already made.
Singapore: Western Traditions With an Asian Twist
Having been a British colony, Singapore learned to celebrate Christmas the English way — despite the tropical weather. Traditional holiday fare such as roast turkey with trimmings has taken on uniquely Singaporean flavors as households began choosing takeout dishes (and as chefs rose to the challenge). This soy-braised turkey served with toasted spiced almonds and homemade chili sauce would be perfect served with pumpkin rice or egg noodles. It’s made in the Cantonese style, braised and slow-cooked with traditional Asian aromatics such as cinnamon, clove, star anise, and dark and light soy sauces. Other Singaporean turkey twists throughout the years have been chicken rice-stuffed turkey and curry-spiced turkey.
For dessert, another Western tradition — the log cake — also takes on a tropical twist. The sponge and filling flavors range from mango to durian.
Australia and New Zealand: Pomegranates and Pavlova
In Australia and New Zealand, Christmas is in the summer. This is reflected in the cuisine, with light and fresh dishes such as grilled fish or prawns and salad dominating the holiday table. Pomegranates are also popular at Christmas, and fresh cherries are a special holiday treat.
Pavlova, made of meringue, whipped cream and fresh fruit, is popular on Christmas. Australia and New Zealand are still fighting over who gets the credit for inventing this beloved dessert, named after Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova.