Christmas: Recipes and Traditions

Holidays | Christmas | Gingerbread House

The celebration of Christmas takes place on December 25th every year. It commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ, whom Christians consider the Son of God and Savior of mankind. Favorite Christmas traditions include exchanging gifts with family and friends, lighting and decorating Christmas trees, singing carols, drinking eggnog and baking all manner of sweets and treats.

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Christmas food traditions vary widely around the world. Puerto Ricans make pasteles. Germans roast goose or duck. The British prefer roast turkey. And Mexicans steam enormous batches of tamales.

Traditions differ from family to family, but a typical Christmas Eve dinner is a relatively simple affair, sometimes followed by nighttime church services. Gifts are exchanged on Christmas morning, followed by a large family meal.

Christmas Recipes


Beverages | Atole Image

(Mexican warm cornmeal beverage)

Atole (ah-TOH-lay) is an ancient Mexican beverage with origins in pre-Columbian times. Similar warm drinks, thickened with cornmeal, are found throughout Central America and are especially popular for breakfast. Mexican atole is traditional at dia de los muertos celebrations, and it's chocolate version, champurrado, is popular at Christmastime. The consistency of atole varies anywhere from almost porridge-like to a thin, pourable drink. Read more »

Baked Country Ham

Meats | Country Ham Image

(American Southern roasted ham)

Country hams are an old tradition in the American South. Fresh pork legs are salt-cured, sometimes smoked, and then dry aged for several months. Because the meat can be very salty, country hams must be soaked in water for a time to remove excess salt. Baked country ham is the perfect centerpiece for any family celebration. Leftovers are great for breakfast with red-eye gravy or served as a sandwich in buttermilk biscuits. Read more »

Bibingka Especial

Desserts | Bibingka

(Filipino sweet coconut and rice flour cake)

Bibingka is a lightly sweet, moist cake made with rice or cassava flour and traditionally cooked over charcoal in a banana-leaf-lined clay pot. A simpler version can be made in a cake pan in the oven. Bibingka especial, with tasty toppings, is popular in the Philippines during the Christmas holiday season and is eaten after Midnight Mass on Christmas Day. Read more »


Meats | Bigos

(Polish hunter's stew of meat, cabbage and sauerkraut)

The national dish of Poland, bigos is an amazing melange of meats and sausages slowly braised over a bed of mellow sauerkraut. Bigos is a popular cold-weather dish in Poland where it provided a handy way of using up cabbage that was put up before winter set in. Bigos is a favorite meal for the day after Christmas and is also popular in Lithuania and Belarus. Read more »


Fish | Cioppino

(American fish and seafood stew)

This tomatoey fish stew is perhaps the iconic San Francisco dish. Italian fishmongers in North Beach developed a flavorful broth studded with the best of the day's catch. The name most likely comes from the Italian dialect word ciuppin, for "to chop." But at Fisherman's Wharf, a favorite story you hear is that Italian cooks would ask fishermen to "chip in" to that day's pot. Read more »


Ingredients | Coconut Image

(Puerto Rican coconut-rum beverage)

Coquito is a popular Christmas beverage in Puerto Rico. It has similarities to American eggnog, but the use of creme de coco or coconut milk gives it a unique island flavor. A version with eggs, known as ponche crema, is a favorite in Venezuela. Read more »

Cranberry Pudding

Desserts | Cranberry Pudding Image

(American steamed Christmas pudding)

This steamed pudding is popular on the American Christmas table. Flame it with rum and serve it with eggnog sauce for an extra treat. Read more »

Cranberry Sauce

Sauces | Cranberry Sauce

(American cranberry condiment)

Cranberry sauce is an essential part of any American Thanksgiving meal. Many families serve it for Christmas dinner too. Some people have to have cranberry sauce in the shape of a tin can. Others prefer this more naturalistic version. A less sweet cranberry sauce is served with game birds in northern Europe. Read more »

Dresdner Stollen

Desserts | Dresdner Stollen Image

(German Christmas fruitcake)

Dresdner Stollen is the famous fruitcake from Dresden that is sold throughout Germany during the Christmas holiday season. Stollen is made from a rich yeast dough mixed with candied fruit and almonds. Loaves are folded to symbolize the Christ child in swaddling clothes. Read more »


Beverages | Eggnog

(American egg and cream Christmas beverage)

Although descended from European winter restorative beverages, or "noggins," eggnog is an American invention that appeared in the late 1700s. Over the years, this rich and creamy drink, spiked with rum, has become an American Christmas tradition. Read more »

Gingerbread Men Cookies

Desserts | Gingerbread Men Cookies

(English spiced Christmas cookies)

Spiced breads have been popular in Europe reaching back to the time of the ancient Romans and Greeks. Germans have their lebkuchen and gingerbread houses. The English have traditionally shaped ginger-scented dough into men, animals and Father Christmas for the holidays. This recipe is always a favorite with kids. Read more »

Janssons Frestelse

Vegetables | Janssons Frestelse

(Swedish potato, onion and cream casserole)

The name of this creamy potato side dish is Swedish for "Jansson's temptation." It's not really clear just who Jansson was — either a 19th century opera singer, or a character in an early 20th century Swedish film. Either way, an entire nation was tempted in the end. Read more »


Ingredients | Rutabagas

(Finnish mashed rutabaga casserole)

This hearty Finnish side dish is similar to mashed potatoes, but with the special, earthy flavor of rutabagas (lanttu), also known as yellow turnips or swedes. Lanttulaatikko is a favorite Christmas dish on Finnish holiday tables. Read more »


Breads | Lefse

(Norwegian potato flatbread)

Lefse is a flatbread from Norway — similar to a flour tortilla or chapati — that is generally made with a potato-based dough and grilled on a flat griddle. Traditionally lefse is rolled out with a grooved rolling pin that prevents air pockets and is turned with a special wooden paddle. Read more »


Desserts | Linzertorte

(Austrian jam tart)

The roots of Austria's famous jam tart from Linz can be traced back several centuries before they disappear into the mists of time. This deliciously simple torte has a crumbly crust made with hazelnuts or almonds, a simple filling of currant or raspberry jam and a distinctive lattice top. Read more »

Mulled Wine

Ingredients | Cinnamon Image

(English spiced wine)

Mulled wine, as this warm spiced wine is known in England, is popular throughout northern Europe around Christmas. In France this warming winter beverage is known as vin chaud, in Italy as vin brûlé. Germans drink Glühwein. The Swedish name for it is glögg. Read more »


Breads | Nacatamales, Tied

(Honduran, Nicaraguan meat and vegetable-filled tamales)

Nacatamales, are popular steamed corncakes from Nicaragua and Honduras. They are similar to Mexican tamales but are larger, filled with meat and vegetables and steamed in banana leaves. Nacatamales are special occasion food and are most often served as a Sunday morning meal or at Christmas, weddings and other large celebrations. Read more »

Oyster Stew

Soups | Oyster Stew Image

(American shellfish stew)

Delicious in its simplicity, oyster stew is a traditional Christmas Eve dish in some American households, a custom said to have originated with Irish immigrants. Read more »

Pan de Jamón

Breads | Pan de Jamon

(Venezuelan ham, raisin and olive bread)

Pan de jamón is a traditional Venezuelan Christmas bread, but you can enjoy it any time of the year. A sweet, soft dough is rolled up around savory ham, sweet raisins and pimento-stuffed olives. The result is like a gift from heaven. Read more »


Desserts | Panforte

(Italian Christmas honey fruitcake)

This fruit and nut confection has been made in the Tuscan city of Siena since the Middle Ages. A traditional Christmas treat, panforte manufacturers jealously guard their recipes. This recipe for panforte Margherita, the most popular version, makes a tasty homemade Christmas treat. Panforte is best made several days ahead as its flavor improves with time Read more »


Breads | Pasteles Image

(Puerto Rican savory cakes in banana leaves)

Pasteles are Puerto Rican special occasion food. The whole family usually gets together assembly-line-style to make large numbers of these starchy parcels and get them ready for the boiling pot. No Boricuan Christmas is complete without pasteles. Read more »


Desserts | Pavlova

(Australian meringue with whipped cream and fruit)

Both Australia and New Zealand lay claim to the birthplace of this heavenly dessert, created to honor the great Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova during her visit in the 1920s. Often called "pav" for short, it is a baked meringue, crispy on the outside and marshmallowy on the inside, that is spread with whipped cream and topped with fresh fruit. Read more »

Pavo Salvadoreño

Ingredients | Wild Turkey Image

(Salvadoran roast turkey with sauce)

Pavo, or turkey, is a popular Christmas meal in El Salvador. Salvadoran immigrants to the U.S. often serve it for Thanksgiving as well. The Salvadoran version of roast turkey has a variety of vegetables and spices that are roasted along with the turkey in the roasting pan. This tasty mixture is then pureed and served as a rich sauce to accompany the turkey. Read more »


Soups | Pozole Image

(Mexican pork and hominy stew)

Pozole is a special occasion dish in Mexico, especially in Guerrero State. Restaurants called pozolerías specialize in it. This dish is a well known cure for hangovers and is often eaten in the wee hours of the morning as a preventive. Pozole is also popular in New Mexico, where it is usually spelled posole. Read more »

Roast Prime Rib

Meats | Roast Prime Rib Image

(English roast rib of beef)

Originally an English Sunday dinner made with a cheap cut of meat, prime rib these days is more often a special occasion meal made with top-quality cuts. It is commonly served in American steak houses or on buffets, often from a cart where it is carved to order. Read more »

Roast Turkey with Pan Gravy

Poultry | Roast Turkey Image

(American holiday turkey)

Turkey is so central to American Thanksgiving that the holiday is often referred to as Turkey Day. The two-step roasting method  in this simple recipe produces a golden-brown turkey with moist breast meat. Roasting the turkey breast-side-down forces juices into the white meat of the breast that might otherwise dry out — the ultimate Turkey Day fail. Read more »


Desserts | Rumtopf

(German rum-soaked fruit dessert)

Begun in the spring, boozy Rumtopf, or "rum pot," is a German Christmastime favorite. Fresh seasonal fruits are sweetened with sugar, layered in a pot and soaked with rum. New fruit is added as it comes into season. The luxurious results are enjoyed as a holiday dessert. Read more »

Sorrel Punch

Beverages | Dried Sorrel Flowers

(Jamaican hibiscus flower beverage)

Sorrel punch is a traditional Christmas beverage in the Caribbean. Dried hibiscus flowers — known as sorrel in Jamaica and not to be confused with the pungent green — can be found in most Caribbean or Latin markets. In Latin markets hibiscus flowers are known as jamaica, and so is the beverage. In West Africa the flowers are known as roselle or bissap and in Nigeria the drink is called zobo. Read more »

Stekt Gås

Poultry | Stekt Gås

(Swedish roast Christmas goose with pan gravy)

Roast goose is a favorite Christmas dish in many countries. This version, with its apple stuffing, comes from Sweden. Unlike other poultry, all goose flesh is dark meat and roasts up like a lean roast beef. Geese, like ducks, are fatty birds,but prepared correctly the meat will be nice and lean and not greasy at all. Read more »

Tamales de Pollo

Breads | Tamales de Pollo Image

(Mexican steamed corncakes with chicken)

Tamales are a staple of Central American cuisine. At their simplest, they are masa corn dough wrapped in corn husks or banana leaves and steamed in a large pot, the tamalera. Most tamales also have some sort of stuffing. Read more »


Meats | Tourtiere

(French Canadian pork pie)

When the French migrated to the wilderness of Quebec, they brought with them their favorite recipes from home. Tourtière was one of those recipes. These savory meat pies are traditionally served at Christmastime accompanied by homemade tomato ketchup and pickled beets. There is no one true recipe. Each family has its own version passed down over time. Read more »

Yorkshire Pudding

Breads | Yorkshire Pudding Image

(English savory puff pudding)

Yorkshire pudding is the traditional accompaniment to a roast prime rib dinner. Popular not just in Yorkshire but throughout England, Yorkshire pudding was traditionally made by pouring the batter into a roasting pan and cooking it along with the meat. Baking it in the same pan after the roast has been removed captures all of the flavor, but lets you cut out a lot of the fat. Yorkshire pudding is often topped with a gravy or pan jus. Read more »