Christmas and New Year are probably the most beautiful holidays of the year. Garlands of colorful lights, which are everywhere decorated with houses and streets of cities, beautiful trees, shiny tinsel – all this has long been an indispensable attribute of winter holidays. Well, what a celebration can be without a large, beautifully decorated table, filled with a huge amount of food.
Green and red are considered to be traditional colors for the festive table serving. However, despite the fact that the custom to decorate the table in this range originated in Europe, it was glorified by the Americans. It is in the U.S. that this traditional decoration has acquired a lot of cute trifles, such as small flower bouquets, Christmas bells, candles, cones, animal figurines, etc. Amazed Europeans only had to be surprised, and again to adopt the forgotten tradition from their overseas friends.
Red and green – traditional colors for a festive table
But if the table decorations were borrowed, then the dishes that are served for the holiday are closely connected with the customs of each individual country, and their recipes are carefully passed on from generation to generation. The only common point is the presence of one large central dish in the form of a whole baked turkey, goose, pig or fish. It symbolizes the unity of all those who gathered at the festive table.
Also, according to the old tradition, Christmas is considered a family holiday, but New Year’s Eve is usually celebrated in the company of close friends and good acquaintances.
So what is served at the festive table in different European countries? Read more about it.
Christmas log is a traditional dish in France
A traditional Christmas dinner in France necessarily consists of 7 dishes, which can be soup with sage and garlic, blood sausages, fried game, chestnuts, lentils, beans, as well as the famous local delicacy – foie gras.
However, the menu can vary greatly from region to region. In the east of France and Burgundy, turkey baked with chestnuts is served, Brittany loves buckwheat cakes, and Parisians are used to enjoying festive dishes from oysters, lobsters or goose liver.
The festive table is set with three tablecloths and three germinated wheat cups and three large candles in the centre, which symbolise the Holy Trinity and are considered the key to happiness next year. At the end of the dinner, 13 desserts are served, according to the number of people present at the Last Supper. They can be very diverse. Very popular are the sweet orange pie called “Oil Pump” and the original dessert “Four beggars”, which necessarily includes raisins, figs, walnuts and almonds.
The only dish that is necessarily served for Christmas everywhere is a chocolate loaf of bush de noel. This dessert is so popular that the tradition is strictly observed not only in France, but also in the whole territory of its former colonies, so you can try the bush de noel even in Algeria or Tunisia.
In all French-speaking countries, the gala dinner is called réveillon, from the word réveil it starts in the evening of December 24th and lasts all Christmas night.
And on New Year’s Eve there is a custom to bake a bean seed in a pie. The one who gets caught is proclaimed the “King of the Beans” and everyone present all night long must fulfill all his wishes.
Pork brings good luck, as the Italians believe.
Christmas menu in Italy also includes 7 dishes. In addition to mandatory meals of beans, lentils, rice and sardines, seafood mixed with spaghetti is often served. And the main dish, as in many other countries, is baked goose.
Many of Italy’s Christmas traditions are associated with symbols of abundance. So lentils are present in the festive menu exclusively as a symbol of prosperity, as the ancient Romans have noticed that its grains resemble coins. Pork is also associated with wealth, and therefore on New Year’s Eve it is obligatory to serve a catekino – pork sausage, or a stuffed pork leg on the table. Pork should be eaten so that in the coming year a man always had luck, and he was rich and happy.
On the festive table of Italians there are various dried fruits and grapes. They also symbolize abundance and promise prosperity and harvest next year.
And pomegranates are considered to be a symbol of fertility and marital fidelity. In order for happiness not to leave the family, spouses must eat one fruit in half.
The whole second half of December in Spain takes place in endless Christmas dinners, which are organized in all the restaurants and last all night long. On average, the Spaniard has time to visit three or four dinners during the pre-holiday days, so there is no need to talk about any productive work at the end of the year.
On Christmas Eve, Spaniards and Portuguese make almond soup, while in Catalonia they prefer a hash of meat soup, which is filled with stuffed snail-shaped pasta.
Rice porridge, biscuits and halvah with honey and nuts are also served on the Christmas table. In the morning, it is customary to eat fat pork or a drop of pork with a side dish of chestnuts or porridge.
Spaniards also have their own special Christmas drink called kava. In fact, it’s an ordinary champagne, only the Iberian Peninsula inhabitants have invented another name for it.
Just like the Italians, the festive table in Spain is unthinkable without grapes. Juicy ripe bunch is considered here a symbol of abundance and happy family life. On New Year’s Eve, when the clock beats at midnight it is necessary to eat 12 vineyards and make 12 wishes – all of them must be fulfilled. The same tradition exists in Portugal and in many Latin American countries, which for a long time were Spanish colonies – Mexico, Peru, Ecuador and Venezuela.
Fire pudding is a must-have Christmas dish for the English.
Since time immemorial, there has been a custom in Britain to cook plum porridge, a porridge cooked on meat broth. It should have been eaten very hot and complemented by honey, nuts or dried fruits. Over time, the porridge was replaced by plum pudding, which is still a must-have dish on the English Christmas table. Its name can be translated as “fire pudding” because it is poured with rum and set on fire before being served.
Another traditional festive dish is stuffed turkey with ham slices, sausages and Brussels sprouts. This tradition appeared only in the 18th century, when turkeys were first brought to the British Isles. Until then, the wealthy inhabitants of the Foggy Albion had served the boar’s baked head on a festive table, and poor peasants had done something similar to dough. But Scots, Irish and Welsh prefer to treat their relatives with smoked or baked goose for Christmas.
New Year’s Eve in Scotland is closely connected with the stories of good dwarfs, and therefore the festive tables are often attended by small figures of these funny little creatures. And also, for this holiday bake a huge sand cake, which is decorated with marzipans and candied nuts.
Apples and nuts are Christmas symbols in Germany
On the German Christmas table there is always fish on the table. It can be ordinary herring or carp, the scales of which resemble coins, and thus symbolize next year’s prosperity. A few carp scales are even usually placed in a purse.
Another indispensable attribute of the festival is a large dish on which apples, nuts and raisin pies are beautifully laid out. All this has a deep symbolic meaning. Apples are the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and nuts with their hard skin and delicious core are associated with the mysteries and difficulties that a person must learn and overcome in his life.
And the main Christmas dish is traditionally baked goose with potatoes and red cabbage.
The most popular of the sweets is cristallene, a regular raisin cupcake. The only difference of such a Christmas cake from all the others is its unusual appearance. The oval cake is sprinkled with sugar powder only two thirds of the time, which makes it look like a tightly swaddled child – the child of Christ.
According to the recipe known since the Middle Ages, another famous German Christmas dessert is baked – Der Lebekuchen, which is a sweet carpet with raisins.
The pig brings happiness to the Austrians
At a Christmas dinner in Austria, noodle soup and a large carp baked with caraway are served. And the New Year’s table decoration is usually a flooded piglet.
On the first day of the New Year lunch consists of pork – it is eaten for good luck, horseradish – for good health and green peas – for wealth in the coming year.
The most important Christmas dish of the Swiss is, well known to us, fondue. Due to the special solemnity of the occasion, not one, but several different types of cheese are used to prepare the festive variant, and wine is added to the boiler.
In addition to fondue, the Christmas table also includes baked salmon and roast, cooked according to a special old recipe.
Holland and Belgium
A variety of Dutch Christmas dishes
The Dutch have a Christmas party with their own frying pan. Each guest must prepare his own original dish for the festive dinner, and it is the duty of the hosts to prepare everything necessary for this – various kinds of fish and meat, shrimps, vegetables. All prepared dishes are generously supplemented with various sauces and salads. It is said that such an exotic tradition exists in Indonesia, from where it was borrowed by Dutch sailors.
It is customary to fry beef, glazed ham, rabbit or pheasant on Christmas Eve. And from England came the tradition of baking turkey.
A variety of waffles, cookies and pudding are popular among the sweets. It is customary to drink all this with hot tea with milk, cinnamon and sugar, sometimes adding nutmeg, saffron or cloves.
And the traditional Belgian Christmas dish is the so-called Bread of Christ – a bun in the form of a swaddled baby. It is usually served in the morning with a cup of aromatic chocolate.
Glegg is a Danish Christmas drink
A baked goose, duck with apples or pork is a must at the Christmas table in Denmark. Potatoes and red-leaved cabbage are most often used as a side dish for meat. Rice pudding with almonds serves as a festive dessert. Nuts are baked inside, and everyone who gets them will be very happy in the coming year.
They usually drink a lot on Christmas Eve, and the most popular drinks are mulled wine, special strong beer or gleg – a mixture of wine and water with carnations and cinnamon.
The temptation of Jansson
In Sweden, as in other Scandinavian countries, the Christmas table serves fish, ham, porridge and special bread recipes. The main dish is a fried pork head or spikered tongue.
Another traditional Swedish festive meal is the Temptation of Janson. It is an amazingly tasty casserole of fish and potatoes with cream.
On New Year’s Eve it is customary to serve fried goose with apples and a lot of appetizers made of herring, salmon, cod and cheese. And the most popular dessert is rice pudding.
Glentwein for Christmas loves to drink in Finland
In Finland, it is customary to cook boiled meat soup, various porridges and potatoes during all winter holidays.
The main decoration of the Christmas table is baked ham, richly seasoned mustard. Among fish dishes gravelax is obligatory – salmon and lutefix – fish soaked in alkaline solution. They are usually served with beetroot salad and a special trouser casserole. The most popular holiday drink among Finns is mulled wine.
Borsch is a traditional Polish dish for Christmas
Unlike most of their neighbors, Poles believe that the Christmas menu should not include meat. At Christmas time, 12 dishes are served, including barley porridge, dumplings, egos, fried carp and borscht.
Strange as it may seem, borscht is really considered to be one of the main Christmas dishes in Poland. And even more surprising is the fact that they cook it without meat, and fill it only with ears – small dumplings with mushroom stuffing.
Sweets are usually served with special festive honey cookies with nuts and small buns in the form of figures of different animals or fairytale characters.
The Christmas menu in the Czech Republic traditionally consists of pearl porridge, potato salad and fried carp. Live fattened carps are sold right on the street from large barrels with long queues lined up for them.
Layered apple pies are usually served for dessert, in which coins are baked and the surprise of wealth and luck awaits. Christmas cookies are also very popular, and the hosts distribute them to their guests.
Hungary and Romania
Pig is a symbol of well-being in Hungary
Christmas dinner in Hungary is a traditional Christmas dinner. Not only is the composition and number of dishes, which may be 7 or 13, but even the sequence of dishes is strictly regulated. Meals must begin with garlic bread, then nuts and apple slices, then noodles, beans and cottage cheese cakes are eaten. As a dessert, baked goods with poppy or marmalade are served. Only after all these essential dishes are hot cabbage or bean soup served.
The king of the New Year’s Hungarian table is usually a roasted pig, it is believed that it brings good luck and prosperity. Interestingly, unlike most European countries, Hungary does not usually eat a bird on holidays. It is believed that otherwise happiness can fly away from home.
And in neighboring Romania for Christmas, not only coins are baked in pies, but also rings, porcelain figurines and pods of baking peppers. Each “stuffing” has its own symbolic meaning, and you should try the pies very carefully – there is a great risk of breaking a tooth or chewing very hot pepper.
Bunitsa is a surprise pie
The festive table in Bulgaria is literally broken from all kinds of dishes, as there is a belief that the more abundant is the New Year’s dinner – the more fruitful will be the coming year.
Among the popular dishes you can name moussaka – potato casserole with minced meat, original dishes of eggplants, sweet potatoes, mushrooms and apples. The dessert is served with a pervanets – a roll with lemon and a bathhouse.
Banitsa is a pie in which a coin is baked, as well as cornel buds. If in a piece of pie there will be one kidney cornel – to health, two – fortunately, and three – to the future wedding. Coin traditionally means prosperity and good luck in financial affairs.
Greece and Serbia
Bread and grenades are eaten for Christmas in Serbia and Greece
Pomegranate is a traditional symbol of abundance in Greece. To find out if the coming year will be a good one, you need to smash one of the fruits against the wall of the house. If the pomegranate cracked and its grains flew away, there will be happiness and prosperity in the house.
At Christmas in Greece, it is customary to bake homemade bread, which depicts the symbols of the master’s craft. Peasants depicted a plow, cattlemen – figures of sheep, etc. There is a similar tradition in neighboring Serbia, such bread is called garlic, and in addition to the patterns, it is decorated with branches of greenery.
In both countries, there are various cereals, sweets and nuts on the festive table. But just like in Hungary, the bird is never used as a Christmas treat for fear that it will fly away from home with luck.
Christmas and New Year
I cordially wish you a Happy New Year and Merry Christmas, be healthy and happy, and let your luck never leaves your home!