How the Rest of the World Does Christmas

During my years living in Melbourne, Australia, Eat With Me was very important to me. The small start-up aimed to connect people around the world through experiences centred around food; its events were how I met many of my closest friends in Melbourne. Although Eat With Me recently ceased operations, I was honoured to have the opportunity to write their blog for over a year, concepting, researching and writing posts related to food and community. Below is one of those posts.

As a native of the Northern Hemisphere, Christmas in Australia has been a bit of an adjustment. Although sundresses, champagne, and beaches are all well and good, to me, Christmas has always meant woolen sweaters (sorry, jumpers), hot cocoa, and snow. I love summer and I love Christmas, but experiencing the two together still doesn’t quite feel right.

In addition to Canada and Australia, I’ve been in Vietnam, the Canary Islands, Costa Rica, and Paris during the holiday season, and no matter how different Christmas feels in each place, there are certain things that remain pretty constant. The same versions of the same songs play in packed shopping centres worldwide. The decorations and paper goods are remarkably similar, including snow and reindeer motifs in places that have neither reindeer nor snow. And most importantly, no matter where you celebrate the Yuletide, it’s almost always centered around good food and great company.

Here’s a little round-up of what’s being served on Christmas tables around the world.

Czech Republic

According to MyCzechRepublic, dinner is traditionally served after the first star has come out and consists of a fish soup starter, followed by carp and potato salad.  "Christmas carp is specially raised in manmade ponds and then sold from large tubs placed on the streets and town squares a few days before Christmas.“ Some families keep their carp in the bathtub for several days as a temporary pet for their children; however, others will purchase a live carp from a vendor, who will bludgeon and hack off the fish’s head "in full view of passers-by.” How festive!

Japan

As we shared recently, Japan has some fantastic food. But Japanese people typically don’t celebrate the Christmas season with sushi or teriyaki. Instead, they leave the cooking up to Colonel Sanders–yes, that Colonel Sanders. Kentucky Fried Chicken takeaway is such a common Christmas meal that families reserve their $40 family buckets up to three months in advance, and line-ups at KFC are often 2-3 hours long. The tradition originated as the result of a wildly successful 1970s ad campaign, and is still going strong forty years later.

Mexico

Christmas in Mexico begins on December 16, when ‘Posada’ (Spanish for 'inn’ or 'lodging’) processions begin. The processions represent Joseph and Mary’s search for a place to stay after being turned away from the inn. For each Posada, children carry candles and painted clay figures of Mary and Joseph and walk from house to house, singing a song about Mary and Joseph’s search for a room. At each house, the children are turned away, until they are told that there is a room and welcomed into the house.

There is a Posada each night until Christmas Eve, when there is a final posada and celebration, with food, fireworks, games (pinatas!) and a midnight church service. The meal includes traditional Christmas fare like Ensalada de Noche Buena, or Christmas Eve Salad, which usually includes lettuce, beets, apple, carrot, orange, pineapple, jicama, pecans or peanuts, and pomegranate seeds. Another common dish is Bacalao (dried salted codfish), which begins showing up in markets as Christmas approaches. It’s often cooked into a fishy stew combining tomatoes, onions, green olives, chilies, and garlic.

Serbia

Serbian people have a badnjak, which is an oak log or branch brought into the house and placed on the fire on the evening of Christmas Eve, much like a yule log.  A member of the household spreads an armful of straw over the floor of the house and often imitates a hen clucking (“Kvo, kvo, kvo”) while the family’s children imitate chicks (“Piju, piju, piju”) and pick at the straw. A handful of walnuts is then sprinkled over the straw, and Christmas Eve dinner can begin.

According to this article, in some regions it is customary for the head of household to go out into the yard and call by name pest animals and personal enemies, inviting them, “Come to dinner now and again in a year, God willing.” This is intended to protect the household from them for a year.

Dinner includes a česnica (which is derived from the noun čest, which means “share”), a ceremonial, round loaf of bread that is an indispensable part of Serbian Christmas tradition. A coin is typically baked into the bread, which is rotated around the table three times counterclockwise before being broken amongst the family members. The person who finds the coin in his or her piece of will supposedly be exceptionally lucky in the coming year.

Wherever and however you’ll be celebrating, we at Eat With Me hope you have a safe and happy holiday season filled with delicious food and terrific people.