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What do they eat around the world for winter holidays?

Maria Sergeeva
December 26, 2017

Yesterday, Catholics celebrated Christmas, and now another important holiday is coming. It's no big secret, winter holidays are celebrated differently all over the world (for some, New Year even is not a winter holiday, but it is a different story) and ?he menu will differ around the world too.


Before discovering winter holiday meals, let’s find out why turkey became the symbol of Christmas in the UK as well as all over the world.

Turkeys were first introduced to England nearly 500 years ago, having been brought over the Atlantic from the New World in 1526 by Mr Strickland.

Prior to the American bird’s arrival, Christmas staples included feasts of geese, wild boar’s head, cattle and even the odd peacock.

Two British monarchs played a large role in this: Henry VIII and Queen Victoria.

Henry VIII was the first English king to enjoy turkey in the 16th century, but a lean spell followed in England under Oliver Cromwell and the bird fell out of use as a Christmas food and although Edward VII made eating turkey fashionable at Christmas.

Once Queen Victoria ascended to the throne, trade with the USA had reopened and turkeys became freely available in the UK.

But as families grew in Victorian Britain, it became economical to buy a larger bird for the period to feed all of the family (and anyone who might call by).

It is estimated that around 10 million of the succulent birds were consumed last year, according to British Turkey. And this year shows no signs of stopping.

Many other countries like the USA, Ireland, France and  even Peru.

For instance, along with turkey, the Irish Christmas dinner which is eaten normally between 1.00 p.m. and 4.00 p.m. consists of ham, Brussels sprouts, roast potatoes, stuffing and various vegetables. Unlike England, many people still follow the older tradition of serving a duck or a goose.

And what about Turkey? Even though it is a Muslim country, around 2004, when Turkey started becoming popular among ex-pats, Christmas became one more business opportunity for restaurants and bars.

In areas where there are a lot of ex-pats, the restaurants will provide you with a full dinner and entertainment for the day. As for the meal, you will find Turkey and pudding as well as the traditional Turkish food. Depending on the area, pigs in blankets is not a problem either as pork is sold in a few places throughout Turkey. 

The most unusual food

Some of the most astonishing Christmas food comes from Icelanders who are quite traditional when it comes to their Christmas dinner. And the tradition wants Icelanders to eat puffin or roasted reindeer – something  which bound to raise a few questions about Rudolph on the part of children from other countries.

Of course, not everyone eats reindeer, the tradition only residing in the east of Iceland, but it's among the more popular game eaten in Iceland. Venison Terrine is a great substitute for the traditional reindeer meat in this rustic cranberry-and-pistachio-studded.

Ptarmigan - or 'rjúpa' in Icelandic, along with Hangikjöt, the smoked lamb, can be found all over the country. The lamb is usually served with potatoes in Béchamel sauce and green peas but there are several other imaginative ways to make a meal of this delicious local delicacy. Leftover Hangikjöt can be used on Icelandic flatbread, in sandwiches or as a tasty snack. Hangikjöt is usually boiled but each family will have its own opinion on how to boil it and for how long.

As for ptarmigan, it is a bird in the grouse family and has a similarly gamey taste. Like with the Hangikjöt, each family will have their own way of preparing and serving it.

Those, who prefer fish to meat, can taste skate, a fish closely related to the species of rays. Skate is considered a delicacy in Iceland and is served on Thorlak’s Mass on December 23rd. Similarly to how Icelanders process shark, the skate is putrefied and therefore has a very strong smell. On Thorlak’s Mass wherever you are, you are sure to run into the smell before you hear the noise of Icelander’s making merry. Skate is usually served with boiled potatoes and rye bread.

And for desert, the cold rice pudding known as risalamande, which actually comes from Denmark. Rice is boiled in milk and vanilla and after it has cooled, cream and almonds are mixed in. It is then served as a dessert on Christmas Eve with either cherry- or applesauce. Many families will play a game where a whole almond is hidden in the pudding and the one who finds it wins a small prize.

You can eat this traditional food with the Christmas drink Malt & Appelsín, a mix of two soft drinks.

Christmas traditions of those who don’t celebrate it traditionally also might seem more than unusual.

As Christmas is not a national holiday in Japan, where less than one per cent of the population is Christian, every Christmas season an estimated 3.6 million Japanese families eat … KFC which, over the last four decades, has managed to make fried chicken synonymous with Christmas in the country.

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Thanks to a clever marketing campaign, launched shortly after the chain’s appearance in Japan in the seventies, convinced the Japanese that Christmas  means KFC (the slogan was “Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!”, or “Kentucky for Christmas!”) and since people queue around the block to get their Christmas meal, according to their one and only established tradition.

The party barrel campaign “filled a void,” Joonas Rokka, associate professor of marketing at the Emlyon Business School in France, explained the BBC. “There was no tradition of Christmas in Japan, and so KFC came in and said, this is what you should do on Christmas.”

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While millions of Japanese celebrate Christmas with KFC, some couples in Japan treat it as a romantic holiday similar to Valentine’s Day, and mark the occasion with dinner in upscale restaurants choosing food according to their personal tastes. For other Japanese families, Christmas is acknowledged but not celebrated in any particular way.

The majority of the Orthodox churches worldwide use the Julian calendar, created under the reign of Julius Caesar in 45 BC, so there are 13 days in difference between the catholic and orthodox Christmas which is on the 7th of January.

Orthodox, who celebrate Christmas traditionally, don’t have Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve, but on Christmas, as many Orthodox Christians fast before January 7, usually excluding meat, fish and dairy products.

Many Orthodox Christians go to the church instead to attend a Christmas liturgy that evening and don’t even eat anything before the first star which signals the start of the Christmas Eve dinner, including Kutya or sochivo (also known as kutia, koljivo, coliv?, koliva, depending on country), to recover energy before the liturgy.

This first-course Christmas Eve pudding of sorts is made with wheatberries, or other grains or legumes like rice, barley or beans, that are sweetened with honey and sometimes augmented with poppy seeds, dried fruits, and nuts.

The kutya is eaten from a common dish to symbolize unity and, in some families, a spoonful of kutya is thrown up to the ceiling.

Principal dishes on the Orthodox Christmas table depending on country include jelly (kholodets), and aspic, goose with apples, sour cream hare, venison, lamb, whole fish, etc. The abundance of lumpy fried and baked meats, whole baked chicken, pork and fish on the festive table was associated with features of the Russian oven, which allowed successful preparation of large portions.