Gastronomic Traditions

Christmas in Europe: Gastronomic Traditions

Nicholas Sterling

The best of European Holiday cuisine.

Soon we will be celebrating the Holidays, a special time of year that is synonymous with our deepest gastronomic traditions. The best holidays are spent with a joyful feast around the family table. We’d like to bring you the special treats found in Europe at this time of the year.

Christmas in Europe

In England, the main course is usually a roast turkey stuffed with bacon and pork sausage, served with vegetables such as carrots, potatoes, peas, and Brussels sprouts, and topped with cranberry sauce. The traditional dessert is Christmas pudding, a dense cake sweetened with molasses (hence its dark color) filled with candied fruit and nuts, soaked in brandy and fruit juices.

In France, the main celebration takes place on Christmas Eve. The glamor and good taste that characterizes the French are magnified during this night when families decorate their tables with their best china, antique glassware, silverware, and candlesticks, because many like to dine by candlelight. On Christmas Eve, the French enjoy sophisticated entrees like oysters, snails, and foie gras. Then comes the main course, which can be roast duck or turkey with vegetables, and to cap the feast, the Buche de Noel, a cake shaped like a tree trunk made with chocolate and nuts. All these treats are accompanied by the best champagnes, wines from Bordeaux, Burgundy, and other French regions.

In this beautiful country of southern Europe the entire family—including the grandparents—gathers to enjoy first the Cenone or Christmas Eve, which has very strict rules because red meats cannot be served, so dinner consists of tarts and fish salad, fried vegetables and a good pasta dish that is usually complemented by tomato sauce, fresh tuna, clams and other shellfish. All these delicacies are often paired with delightful Sicilian white wines, sparkling wines or Marsala. On Christmas Day, dinner is based on the main dish of meat-filled pasta with tomato sauce, mozzarella and baked Parmigiano-Reggiano, as well as the famous arrosto, which is roast veal with vegetables. But Christmas in Italy would not be complete without all the great sweets: torrone, pandolce, panettone, and pandoro, among others.

As in Italy, Spain celebrates both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The most important occasion is Christmas Eve, though. On this day, the table is beautifully adorned, and families gather in front of a menu that includes entrees with all kinds of seafood (crabs, shrimp, prawns, barnacles, and clams) followed by a roast suckling pig or lamb with potatoes and vegetables, and sometimes fish such as hake and sea bream. And of course, all is generously accompanied by wines from Rioja, Ribera del Duero, and Jumilla. The tradition of Christmas sweets in Spain will delight anyone with a “sweet tooth”: nougat, mantecados, polvorones, marzipan…accompanied by delicious sparkling wines called cavas.

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