Christmas Food Traditions Around The World



People all over the world follow time-honoured traditions to celebrate Christmas, and this naturally includes a wide variety of festive foods. We only have to look at the following selection of Christmas dishes and sweets to get an idea of the diversity of traditional Christmas food.

Christmas biscuits, a typical German Advent and Christmas treat, were probably first made in medieval monasteries to commemorate the birth of Jesus. Stollen (a sweet yeast bread containing candied fruit, currants, orange and lemon peel and spices) and gingerbread recipes also originated in monasteries.




Bûche de Noël is a French Christmas cake in the shape of a log. It is based on the tradition of burning a log in the family fireplace on Christmas Eve. This act was believed to bring good luck. When fireplaces were replaced by stoves, the tradition of eating a log-shaped cake instead of burning a log began.


Saffron buns called lussebullar or lussekatter form part of the St. Lucia celebration that takes place on December 13 in Sweden. One theory is that the S-shaped buns were created with the aim of warding off the devil because saffron was believed to have magical powers.











Mince pies are an English Christmas dish with a long tradition dating back to the early Middle Ages. They consist of a pastry with a sweet filling made from a mixture of dried fruit and spices such as cinnamon, sugar and nutmeg, and meat. The meat was later completely replaced by sweet ingredients.






Plum pudding, or Christmas pudding, used to be a meat dish containing dried fruit. The first records of plum pudding date back to the Middle Ages. In the late 16th century, plum pudding began to refer to a sweet steamed or boiled pudding.





There are many legends about the origins of panettone, an Italian Christmas cake. It has a long tradition that can be traced back to the 15th or 16th century. The sweet cake has now become a Christmas staple in Italy.







The tradition of eating ham at Christmas is thought to have its roots in the Germanic pagan ritual of sacrificing a wild boar at harvest festivals in northern and Anglo-Saxon countries. The adoption of the tradition by Christians dates from St Stephen's Day.(Source: Wikipedia)











Hallaca is a traditional Venezuelan Christmas dish. It consists of flour dough that is wrapped in a banana leaf, stuffed with a filling of beef, olives, pork and capers and then steamed.







Turrón is a Spanish Christmas sweet made from a mixture of honey, eggs, sugar and roasted nuts. It is thought that the origin of turrón dates back to Greek times, when almonds and honey were used to make a high-energy snack. It probably became a Christmas treat because the almond harvest takes place at the end of the summer, so the finished product is ready to be eaten at Christmas.




Holodets, cold meat jelly, is a traditional Russian Christmas dish.



A Christmas commercial


For its 2020 Christmas campaign, UK supermarket chain Sainsbury's has produced three videos that evoke the nostalgic Christmas memories of the three families featured in the adverts. The retailer says the stories are fictional but based on real consumer experiences. The first ad, 'Gravy Song', is about a daughter who calls her father to chat about 'Dad's gravy'. The video evokes the young woman's memories through family photos and home video footage of past family Christmas celebrations. The food is not shown in detail, but it is clear that the family is gathered around a traditional English Christmas table, including Christmas crackers (table decorations that look like a large wrapped sweet and make a popping sound when pulled open).




Using the video in class:



Previewing activity:

  1. What food do you associate with Christmas?
  2. Match the descriptions of the Christmas dishes with the pictures.
  3. Which of these dishes have you tried or would like to try?
  4. An English Christmas dinner - Have you tried any of the dishes that make up a typical English Christmas dinner?

The following dishes usually form part of an English Christmas dinner:

  • roasted turkey
  • gravy (made from the drippings of the turkey when it is cooked)
  • herb stuffing, for example made of onions and sage, which can be served inside the turkey or as a side dish
  • Brussel sprouts
  • roasted or mashed potatoes
  • Yorkshire pudding (a common British side dish made of a batter of egg, flour, and milk that is baked)
  • plum pudding or Christmas pudding (a dessert that is made from dried fruit and is normally served with brandy butter)
  • mince pies (pies that are filled with a mixture of dried fruit and spices such as cinnamon, sugar, and nutmeg)


While-viewing questions

  1. What is the commercial about?
  2. What does the gravy have to do with Christmas?
  3. Can you recognise any of the dishes that are shown?


Comment on question 2:

The gravy is an important part of a traditional English Christmas dinner. Some skill is required to prepare the perfect home-made gravy.



After-viewing questions

  1. In your opinion, what feelings does the commercial intend to evoke?
  2. What do you think of the commercial?
  3. Some viewers criticized the commercial because that they didn’t feel represented by the story due to the fact that it depicts a black family. (The families shown in the other two videos of the campaign are white.) What do you think of this criticism?



According to Sainsbury’s, the commercial has the following aim: “… we hope the advert represents part of Christmas that most people will fondly remember, with food at the heart. We hope that we bring a smile to those watching, wherever they may be—and leave them looking forward to Christmas." (campaignlive.co.uk)


In response to the criticism, Sainsbury’s released the following statement on Twitter: “At Sainsbury's, we want to be the most inclusive retailer. That's why, throughout all our advertising we aim to represent a modern Britain, which has a diverse range of communities.” Natasha Mushonga, whose children appeared in the Christmas commercial, stated: “It hurts that people think that the colour of your skin determines what type of Christmas you should have.”



Follow-up question:


 The commercial is shot in a home video style to make it look more authentic. Do 

 you have films and photos of family celebrations? Do you watch the videos or look at

 the photos sometimes? What memories do they evoke?



Typical Christmas Dishes - Worksheet
An exercise to match Christmas dishes with their pictures
Adobe Acrobat Dokument 304.8 KB

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