Merry Christmas Australia! The time has come to ice the esky, peel the prawns, gladwrap the salads and attempt to put reindeer antlers on a very begrudging family pet. As the mercury soars and the whir of the air-conditioner is drowned out by the eager shredding of wrapping paper, families and friends across the country will mark the festive season with one common component: good food, and likely too much of it.
Australia has been cementing its own Christmas traditions – Pavlova and cold-cut roast included – but our nation’s multicultural edge means December 25 comes with a little international flair. Whether you celebrate the public holiday for secular, traditional, personal or commercial reasons, a bountiful banquet is always at the heart of the revelry. Today, as you crack bon bons and clink glasses over a smorgasbord of deliciousness, people far and wide are preparing a festive feast of their very own.
United Kingdom: Stir it up, make a wish
Christmas dinner is served in the early afternoon in the UK so everyone can tune in to hear the Queen’s yuletide broadcast. One of the most iconic Christmas foods on dinner tables in the UK is mincemeat pie: mincemeat stewed with fruit, cinnamon and cloves. The dish was actually banned in the mid-1600s by Oliver Cromwell and his hatred of the “pagan holiday”, but King Charles restored Christmas (and pies) soon after. Dense, moist pudding is another Christmas classic. Made with fruit, spices, nuts and brandy, the day the pud is made is traditionally known as “stir-up Sunday”, when each member of the family stirs the mixture and makes a wish.
France: The feast that never sleeps
Provencal France in the country’s southeast celebrates Noël in the sweetest of ways, preparing 13 desserts as a nod to Jesus and the 12 apostles of the Last Supper. The sweet treats of Les Treize Desserts de Noëlare all set out on Christmas Eve and often include nougat, almond paste candies and the famous bûche de Noël or yule log cake: rolled sponge cake filled with chocolate buttercream and decorated to look like a tree log. Christmas dinner in France is called Le Reveillon and is served after midnight mass. Reveillon – from the word reveil or waking – is also celebrated in Brazil, Portugal, Romania, parts of Canada and New Orleans.
The Netherlands: DIY gourmet style
Each European country has its own unique customs when it comes to Christmas, from the beast-like Austrian Krampus who punishes naughty children to Germany’s glittering Christmas markets, which date back to the 14th Century. In Holland, December 5 is the big one when Sinterklass (Saint Nicholas) sneaks gifts into children’s clogs. Christmas Day, Eerste Kerstdag, is more of a low-key affair where friends and family sit around a Dutch gourmet-set and use individual fry pans to cook up bite-sized portions of food. It’s the task of the host to prep the vegetables, meat, seafood and salads for the gourmet event. Like most cultures, December 26 or Tweede Kerstdag is all about the leftovers.
Peru: Sweet charity & stuffed turkey
A big part of Christmas celebrations in Peru is chocolatada where businesses, shops and churches share the spirit of season with those less fortunate, mainly in smaller rural villages. Spiced hot chocolate and sweet panettone bread are served to Peruvians in need, especially children, by those who are a little better-off. Like many countries, Christmas dinner is held around midnight when the clock ticks over to December 25. The turkey has pride of place on the Peruvian Christmas menu, stuffed with ground beef and peanuts and adorned with fresh slices of pineapple and cherries, while Peru’s southern neighbour Argentina does things a little differently, preferring to indulge on roast peacock.
Japan: Winner winner chicken dinner
As only a tiny percentage of Japan’s population identifies as Christian, Christmas Day isn’t a national holiday in the land of the rising sun. That doesn’t mean all tradition is lost, however. Following a tremendously successful advertising campaign in the 1970s, the thing to do on Christmas Day in Japan is dig into a big bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken – Colonel Sanders even suits up Santa style for the big day. Eager consumers order their finger lickin’ dinner box months in advance to ensure they get their kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii (Kentucky for Christmas). December 25 is more of a “couples” day in Japan – families save their party hats for New Year celebrations.