Christmas is a holiday that so many of us around the world share yet celebrate so differently. Here, some of my friends from Sweden to Colombia share how they celebrate the Festive season, their family and nation’s traditions and of course what they were eating.
ALEX PARKER, UNITED KINGDOM
The 25th of December at home is the quintessential English Christmas day, oriented around the quintessential English Christmas lunch. In brief, wake at 7am to put the turkey in the oven, open presents with the family, eat at one o’clock, watch the Queen’s speech at three, and then fall asleep on the sofa.
For those not familiar with Christmas pudding, it is a steamed, parabolic cast of dried fruit and brandy, bound together with eggs, butter, sugar and suet (animal fat). As if the mixture wasn’t excessive enough, the pudding is then doused in brandy, ignited, and then quaffed with brandy cream and brandy butter.
Christmas day at our household is a chance for the whole family to get together and enjoy good food. In the near zero degree temperatures encountered during Christmas in the UK, plentiful amounts of comforting hot food are more than welcome. As are countless glasses of red wine, port and brandy.
Boxing day on the other hand is a stark contrast to the meaty excess of the 25th. This year we started with a marinated mozzarella, cured ham and peach salad, and enjoyed a main of lobster and scallop pie, otherwise known as a Pathivier. These two courses were followed by a small lemon tart, and blueberries.
Although the cuisine of these two occasions is fairly distant, the overriding theme of enjoying excellent, good quality food with family is recurrent.
FLORENCE EDKVIST, SWEDEN
My family is vegetarian so we actually prepare vegetarian versions of the dishes traditionally eaten for Christmas. While most Swedish families are feasting on a smörgåsbord of meatballs, pâtés, a variety of pickled fish and cured salmon, we have vegetarian meatballs made out of soy, vegetarian ‘ham’ made out of almond and pickled herring made out of vegetables and ‘Quorn fillets’. The food is laid out buffet-style, with beetroot salad, cabbage salad, stuffed eggs, pickled vegetables and of course a variety of bread and cheese.
Naturally, drinking is also a big part of the celebrations. We sing Helan Går, a popular Swedish song to signal the start of many shots of Aquavit, a Scandinavian spirit spiced with caraway or dill. Among shouts of “skåls!”, we have silly drinking songs that go like: “hup-de-la-la-la-loo-lah-lay’, down it/ Sing ‘hup-de-la-la-lah-lay’/ And whoever doesn’t down it in one go, won’t get the other half either…”
OLE ERIK AABERG, NORWAY
What people are eating for Christmas in Norway really depends on which region their family comes from. My family come from both the South East and North where you will find both pig and sheep farms. So for Christmas dinner, which we eat on Christmas eve, we usually have either Ribbe or Pinnekjøtt, or on a good year, both! Ribbe is a slow roasted, side of pork belly with delicious salty, crispy skin which we serve with boiled potatoes, sausages and meatballs. Pinnekjøtt are salted and cured and sometimes smoked sheep or lamb ribs. They need to cure in salted water for at least 24 hours and you change the water up to 3 times depending on how salty you want the ribs, then you cook them for about 3 hours. It’s a long process but always worth it! The Pinnekjøtt is served with boiled potatoes, and rutabaga (turnip/swede) puree.
IRENE LOPEZ VELASQUEZ, COLOMBIA
Colombian’s are extremely passionate people, and as the Holiday season nears, everybody starts to go mad; partying, decorating, dancing and the food begins to take centre stage. The unofficial start of the Christmas season begins on the 7th of December with Little Candle’s day which celebrates the eve of the immaculate conception. In honor of Virgin Mary, candles and paper lanterns are placed on windows, balconies, porches, sidewalks, streets, parks… everywhere!
As I guess with most countries, what families eat for Christmas is largely determined by their class. In colombia, there is no real existence of middle class, generally you are either in the lower class or high-class. People in the high class usually eat international cuisines for Christmas which is why we have turkey and American style dishes whereas the lower class will have barbecues, Lechona which is a stuffed pig roasted in an outdoor brick oven for about 10 hours and Tamales. My family actually enjoy a combination of both. We have a turkey which is marinated in onion, peppers, celery, garlic, soy sauce, mustard and cognac, which we later simmer down to make a delicious gravy to go with the turkey. We also have integral rice, potato bake, salads and prawns cooked au gratin with parmesan cheese, parsley, onion, cognac, garlic an olive oil. We bbq marinated beef and also have Arepas, a flatbread made of ground maize dough and then split and filled with various accompaniments like meat, cheese, avocado just like a sandwich.
For sweets we have Hojuela, which means ‘flake’ in Spanish. It’s a traditional Spanish baked sweet which is very common for Colombians to eat in the holiday season made from a flour-based batter with is deep-fried and then dusted with sugar and cinnamon. Another important sweet dish eaten traditionally for Christmas is Natilla, a sweet custard that’s flavoured with Aguardiente, Colombia’s official national spirit which gives the natilla a soft aniseed flavour. The natilla is an important part of the plato navideño, a dish eaten after Christmas or in the novenas which also includes buñuelo which are balls made from cornflour and cheese and is commonly given to friends and family as a gift.
RUTH JUURSEMA, HOLLAND
Growing up in The Netherlands, the most important day of Christmas is the 5th December, the eve of St. Nicholas’ day when Sinterklaas (St. Nicholas) brings you presents! Sinterklaas traditionally arrives in mid-November (the first Saturday after November 11) by steamboat from Spain. His arrival is a big event with thousands of people lining the canals to watch him, along with more than a kilometer of floats and boats make his entrance into the city by sailing down the Amstel River. Christmas day, the 25th of December is a much quieter affair where family get together and share a meal. This year, almost the entire family came together. We begin in the afternoon drinking, eating apple pie and Kerstkransjes which are chocolate Christmas wreath cookies before we take a walk out in the cold and then sit down to dinner at 6pm. I absolutely love carpaccio so I made this for the first course along with snacks that my cousins had made like stuffed eggs, stuffed mushrooms and mini sausages wrapped in pastry. For the main course, my aunt made Beef Bourgignon, a classic slow-cooked French stew. We also have traditional Dutch food like apple sauce, roasted pears and potato croquettes.
JESSICA RIGG (ME!), AUSTRALIA
Christmas in Australia is always a scorching summer’s day, where we abandon the air conditioning and keep ourselves cool with cold beer and frozen mango daiquiris. Mango season is a big deal and we make the most of the juicy sweet fruit by making cocktails, having it sliced in salads and paired with a glass of champagne for a true Aussie ‘Chrissy’ breakfast. After a short breakfast and cleaning up the mass piles of wrapping paper left from opening presents around the Christmas tree, the family get together for a long, lazy and boozy lunch. Because it’s so hot, we rarely serve hot dishes and instead cook either a glazed leg of ham or roast rolled pork loin the day before and slice it before serving cold. I couldn’t imagine a Christmas without seafood and I think much the rest of Australia would agree; it just isn’t Christmas lunch without a couple of kilos of fresh cold prawns – no, we don’t thrown them on the barbie (and they’re prawns, not shrimp!). Thrown together on the outdoor table, buffet style, all of this is served along side fresh oysters and summer salads bursting with colour like coleslaw, garden salad, and what I will always count as one of my mum’s greatest achievements: a simple, yet heavenly, creamy potato salad.