As the season of giving, many people look forward to Christmas for the gifts. Many think of the holiday as the season of lights and beautiful decorations. For most Filipinos, they no doubt look forward to the food.
One of the best parts of a Filipino Christmas is the traditional noche buena, a sumptuous homecooked feast served on Christmas Eve. Rich, flavorful dishes such as lechon or pancit, hamon and queso de bola, plus sweet pastries like bibingka, halaya, or fruit salad, all of these are brought out to celebrate the coming of Christ and are eaten together with family and friends.
Of course, sitting down with loved ones in a Christmas feast is not an exclusively Filipino tradition. Check out how people all over the world celebrate the holiday with food and traditions of their own.
Christmas Day meals in Poland is an elaborate affair, as a traditional vigil supper known as Wigilia. After the first star appears in the sky on Christmas Eve, Polish families share the Christmas wafer (opłatek) and wishes good things for the coming year, then sit down to eat a meatless meal in honor of Catholic tradition. A traditional Christmas meal in Poland includes fish dishes and Borscht (beetroot soup) with Uszka (tortellini). A variety of special Christmas rollmops, matjas herring, poppy seed cakes (makowiec), dried fruit compote and other delicacies including edible Christmas ornaments are also served. Dishes typically include: stuffed carp, fried carp, herring in wine sauce, herring in cream sauce, fruit compote, vegetable salad, soup (beetroot, mushroom, or fish) with uszka, pierogi, peas and carrots, boiled potatoes, mushroom cream sauce, sauerkraut, and makowiec (poppy seed rolled cake).
Observed in France and some other French-speaking countries, a réveillon is a long dinner or party held on the evenings preceding Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. An extravagant or a luxurious celebration, a réveillon usually serves food like lobster, oyster, escargots or foie gras as appetizers, while the main course features stuffed turkey with chestnuts. Dessert may consist of a Yule log, known as a bûche de Noël. In the French province of Provence, the tradition of the thirteen desserts is followed, in which 13 desserts are served, which include pompe à l’huile (a flavoured bread), dates, and the like. Needless to say, the celebration is flush with the serving of quality wine, with champagne or similar sparkling wines drunk as a conclusion.
While the Japanese celebrate Christmas with their own traditional Christmas cakes — either a white sponge cake covered with cream and decorated with strawberries or a Stollen cake, either imported or made locally — millions of Japanese people celebrate Christmas with a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken. When the American brand opened its first branch in Japan in the 1970s, it created a marketing campaign centering on the holiday that saw great success. The campaign was so successful that eating KFC at Christmastime has become a national custom.
The food table prepared as a tradition in Finland is called the Joulupöytä. While it consists of many different dishes, a Christmas staple is usually the ham, which is eaten with mustard or bread along with laatikkos, (casseroles made with swede, potato and carrot, occasionally liver). Fish, often lutefisk (aged whitefish and lye) and gravlax (raw salmon, cured in salt, sugar, and dill) is also served. Finnish people also prepare different casseroles with potatoes, rutabaga or carrots, and serve alcoholic or non-alcoholic mulled wine.
In the UK, Christmas dinner is typically eaten in the afternoon on Christmas Day and is usually features stuffed turkey, gravy, sometimes pigs in blankets (sausage-based dishes) or devils on horseback (bacon-wrapped dates, fruit, or nuts); cranberry sauce or redcurrant jelly; bread sauce; yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes (sometimes also boiled or mashed); vegetables (usually boiled or steamed), particularly brussels sprouts and parsnips; with dessert of Christmas pudding (or plum pudding), sometimes mince pies or trifle, with brandy butter and/or cream.
Like Filipinos, Mexicans also celebrate noche buena on Christmas Eve, a festive occasion with family and guests. While Christmas meals can differ from region to region, the traditional stew pozole is a common staple. Made with hominy and meat — usually pork — it’s accompanied by a wide variety of condiments like shredded cabbage, chile peppers, avocado, and lime. Other dishes include tamales (maize or dough steamed in a corn husk or banana leaf), atole (hot corn- and maize-based beverage), birria (spicy stew, traditionally made from goat meat or mutton), and menudo. Sweet tamales filled with pineapple, raisins, strawberries, or corn are common desserts alongside sweets like flan, fruit and milk or liquer-flavored gelatin, or Champurrado.
More Americanized fare like brandy-glazed ham, chicken, turkey or sometimes duck is served in some areas, along with mixed grilled, stewed, or raw vegetables like carrots, potatoes, spinach, cactus, onions, chayote squash and radishes. Salsa is always served as a garnish and accompanied by queso fresco, tortillas, and refried beans, if not “sopa de arroz,” rather rice cooked with tomato and spices. The bacalao fish is common in coastal zones, along with shrimp or fish soup. — Bjorn Biel M. Beltran