Joy to the world, the holidays are here. Folks from all across the globe are enjoying the season with unique celebrations and traditions. And a lot of fabulous food. So why not treat your taste buds to a tour of foreign fare? Take a break from the tried-and-true turkey and classic cutout cookies and get a little adventurous in the kitchen. All the world loves good food, especially during the holidays, so it’s the perfect time to explore delicious dishes from other countries. You might discover a few new holiday favorites to add to the recipe box.
- Omisoka in Japan
- St. Stephen’s Day in Ireland
- St. Lucia Day in Sweden
- Sviata Vechera in the Ukraine
- Noel in France
- Saint Basil’s Day in Greece
- Réveillon in Canada
- Noche Buena in Argentina
Omisoka, the Japanese New Year’s Eve, is celebrated with a late family dinner of Toshikoshi Soba around 11:00 pm. This traditional meal of buckwheat noodles is believed to promote a long and healthy life, so it’s definitely worth a try. At midnight, families visit a shrine or temple where a large bell strikes 108 times to purify the people from past sins for the start of the New Year.
On December 26th the Irish celebrate St. Stephen’s Day, which is also known as the day of “Hunting the Wren.” Children go door-to-door singing songs as they hold a stick with holly branches and a fake wren attached to the top. Neighbors then give the kiddos money to feed the “starving wren,” which used to be a real wren in ancient times. Later, for supper, a rich, meaty pie (sans wren) is served.
On December 13, in honor of St. Lucia, Swedish girls dress as “Lucia brides” in white gowns with red sashes and a wreath of burning candles (yikes!) on their heads. Traditionally, it’s the eldest daughter who gently rouses the family members from sleep with a sweet song, hot coffee, and warm twisted saffron buns known as Lussekatter or “Lucia cats.” What a wonderful way to wake up as long as nothing catches on fire from those candles.
Sviata Vechera, the “Holy Supper,” is served on January 6, the eve of the Epiphany. Once the first rising star appears in the sky, the traditional 12-course meatless and dairy-free feast begins after a full day of fasting. The first of the twelve dishes is always Kutia. Before this sweet wheat soup is served, it is thrown by the spoonful to the ceiling by the eldest in the family. Seriously. The more the kernels stick, the better the luck that year. Sounds super-fun, doesn’t it? Most moms would not be on board with this food-flinging tradition, lucky or not.
In France, Pere Noel, not Santa, delivers the gifts from house to house. And on Christmas Eve, the children’s shoes, not stockings, are placed near the fireplace and filled with small gifts, fruits, and nuts. In French homes, a nativity scene (or crèche) is just as important as the Christmas tree (or sapin de Noel). And the celebratory dinner, the Reveillon, is eaten just after midnight once the family returns from Christmas Eve church services. This decadent meal includes roast goose, regional cheeses, oysters, and foie gras. C’est magnifique!
Saint Basil, a fourth-century bishop and the father of the Greek Orthodox Church, was known for his kindness toward the poor. In his honor, families gather on Saint Basil’s Day (the Greek New Year’s Day) to exchange gifts and eat a large feast, including a traditional Saint Basil’s Day cake, Vassilopita. A foil-wrapped gold or silver coin is baked inside the cake and the person who gets the lucky slice is doubly blessed. The first piece of Vassilopita is always set-aside for Saint Basil to acknowledge his generosity.
Many French families in Quebec have a big feast on Christmas Eve called Réveillon. The feast often lasts well into the early hours of Christmas morning after Christmas Eve Mass. Many people eat a Tortière, which is a meat pie made from venison, pork or beef.
A traditional Latin American Christmas is celebrated on December 24 and is known as Noche Buena. Many Argentinian’s top of a huge feast with pan dulce. It’s a sweet, staple during Christmas in Argentina and often has raisins and walnuts.