10 Traditional Christmas Foods From Around the World

Like all festivals and celebratory occasions, Christmas is often linked with distinct types of food.

These vary from one place to another, yet numerous countries that observe countries have their own traditional options.

This article delves into some of these Christmas foods, exploring their characteristics, origins, and popularity.

Additionally, we’ll also offer a brief overview of the ingredients and nutritional content of each food.

1. Roast Turkey

A Roast Turkey Prepared For Christmas.
  • Origin: As a Christmas dish: unknown, but it was widely popular in the 1800s
  • Often consumed in: Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, United Kingdom, United States
  • Typical ingredients: turkey
  • Nutrition: high in protein, relatively low in fat

Roast turkey stands out as one of the most popular traditional Christmas foods.

While not exclusive to any one country, roast turkey enjoys significant popularity in countries like Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

In these countries, as well as Australia, Ireland, and New Zealand, roast turkey is frequently the centerpiece at Christmas dinners.

Depending on the country, turkey may be served alongside foods like seasonal vegetables, roast or mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, or salads.

Although the precise origin of turkey as a Christmas dish remains unknown, historical records indicate its widespread popularity in England by the mid-19th century (1).

Turkey is a protein-rich food that also delivers a broad range of vitamins and mineral.

The light meat parts of turkey, such as breast, are very lean and have a relatively mild taste. Conversely, the dark meat cuts of turkey, such as the legs, contain more fat and offer a richer flavor.

2. Christstollen (Stollen)

German Stollen Sweet Bread: a Popular Christmas Dessert.
  • Origin: Germany, 14th-15th century
  • Often consumed in: Germany, but now popular worldwide
  • Typical ingredients: Wheat flour, butter, sugar, dried fruit, marzipan
  • Nutrition: high in carbohydrates, moderately high in fat, saturated fat, and sugar

Christmas stollen, also known as Christstollen or simply stollen, is a fruit bread that typically incorporates an assortment of nuts, dried fruits, marzipan, and spices.

While there are competing claims about its history, stollen may have originated in Germany as far back as 1329 (2).

As a traditional German Christmas delicacy, stollen has found popularity in neighboring countries like Austria and Switzerland. However, it has transcended borders to become a popular seasonal dessert worldwide.

The classic stollen recipe contains ingredients such as dried vine fruits, wheat flour, butter, marzipan, and eggs, making it relatively high in carbohydrates, sugars, and saturated fat.

Stollen is often savored alongside a hot drink, such as tea or coffee.

3. Tamales

Traditional Mexican Tamales.
  • Origin: Mesoamerica, circa 8000 B.C.
  • Often consumed in: Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, numerous Latin American countries
  • Typical ingredients: Masa dough, meat, vegetables, fruit, seasonings
  • Nutrition: Depends on the recipe, but they can be moderately high in carbohydrates, fat, and protein

Tamales, a traditional Mesoamerican dish with a history potentially dating back as far as 8000 B.C. (3), have evolved into a culinary favorite across Latin America. They are especially enjoyed as a holiday food.

The dish features an outer wrapping typically made from masa (maize) dough that can house a wide range of fillings.

These fillings may range from meat and vegetables to fruit, seasonings, and more. All tamales are prepared by steaming them in either a corn husk or banana leaf.

Tamales are consumed during special occasions and events, with Christmas standing out as one of these festive times.

4. Mince Pies

A Plate of Mince Pies.
  • Origin: England, 14th century
  • Often consumed in: Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa, United Kingdom
  • Typical ingredients: Mincemeat, wheat flour, butter, sugar
  • Nutrition: Typically high in carbohydrates, sugar, fat, and saturated fat

Mince pies are a popular Christmas “treat” or dessert that feature mincemeat wrapped in pastry.

Despite its name, mincemeat does not actually contain meat; rather, it is a mix of dried fruits, sugar, spices, and sometimes a small amount of spirit.

While mince pies are a ubiquitous holiday staple in the United Kingdom, they also enjoy popularity in countries with strong cultural ties.

Although today’s mince pies are considered sweet desserts, this wasn’t always the case. In fact, the earliest record of such a pie dates back to a 1390 cookbook, featuring spices and sugar alongside pork (4).

The traditional recipe for mince pies incorporates flour and butter for the pastry, and a mix of dried fruits and sugar for the filling. Consequently, the pies tend to be relatively high in fat, saturated fat, carbohydrates, and sugar.

Mince pies are commonly enjoyed on their own, but it is also popular to heat them and serve them alongside whipped cream.

5. Sauerbraten

German Sauerbraten: a Traditional Christmas Dish.
  • Origin: Germany, unknown origin but possibly as early as the 9th century
  • Often consumed in: Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Luxembourg
  • Typical ingredients: Meat, gravy
  • Nutrition: High in protein

Sauerbraten, a marinated and roasted meat dish, holds a place as a popular Christmas delicacy in Germany.

While its primary popularity lies in Germany, sauerbraten also finds its way to regions influenced by German culture, such as Austria, Switzerland, and Luxembourg.

Though the exact origins of the dish remain elusive, some historians speculate that it may have been invented as early as the 9th century A.D. (5).

Although the specific ingredients may change depending on region, sauerbraten is commonly made with roasted beef. Prior to cooking, this beef undergoes a multi-day marination process involving either wine or vinegar and a range of seasonings.

As sauerbraten is a meat-based dish, it offers a good source of protein.

6. Panettone

Italian Panettone: a Popular Christmas Dessert Bread.
  • Origin: Milan, Italy
  • Often consumed in: Italy, but popular worldwide
  • Typical ingredients: Wheat flour, sultanas, butter, sugar
  • Nutrition: High in carbohydrates, fat, saturated fat, and sugar

Panettone is a popular sweet bread hailing from Milan, Italy. It is also strongly associated with the holiday season, appearing in stores around the world in the lead-up to Christmas.

While numerous varieties and regional varieties exist, the base ingredients of panettone include flour, sugar, butter, eggs, and various candied fruits.

Panettone has a unique tall and dome-shaped appearance, boasts a light and soft texture, and usually consists of various colorful pieces of candied fruit and sometimes chocolate chips.

The dessert undergoes an extensive ‘proofing’ process, which contributes to its fluffiness, shape, and relative expense.

While debates surround its exact origin, it is thought that panettone-style sweet breads could have first been consumed as early as the 15th century (6).

However, the iconic dome-shaped panettone we recognize today gained popularity in 1919 (7).

Due to its generous content of flour, sugar, and butter, panettone is high in both carbohydrates, sugar, and fat.

It is commonly enjoyed alongside alcoholic beverages or a hot drink.

7. KFC Chicken

A Bucket of KFC Chicken.
  • Origin: Kentucky, USA, 1952
  • Often consumed in: Japan for Christmas, otherwise worldwide
  • Typical ingredients: Chicken, wheat flour, oil, seasoning
  • Nutrition: High in protein and fat

Perhaps surprisingly, KFC chicken plays a ‘traditional’ Christmas role in one part of the world: Japan.

According to Time Out, KFC Japan makes a third of its yearly sales at Christmas, with orders allowed to commence as early as the beginning of November (8).

The origins of KFC’s popularity over Christmas in Japan trace back to a successful 1974 marketing campaign. This campaign was known as ‘Kentucky for Christmas!’ and aimed to position fried chicken as a Christmas alternative to the typical Western turkey meals (9).

Evidently, the campaign worked very well in achieving its aims, as long queues have become a customary sight every Christmas day.

8. Yule Log (Buche de Noel)

Yule Log: a Popular French Christmas Dessert.
  • Origin: France, 19th century
  • Often consumed in: France and neighboring countries, but popular around the world
  • Typical ingredients: Sugar, cocoa, milk chocolate, wheat flour, buttercream
  • Nutrition: High in carbohydrates, sugar, fat, and saturated fat

Yule log, also known in French as bûche de Noël, is a traditional French dessert cherished during the Christmas season.

A real yule log is a block of wood procured for burning during yule, which is a winter festival held in parts of Europe (10).

The French ‘yule log’ dessert has a log-shaped appearance that mimics the appearance of this winter log. Furthermore, the outer part of the cake is intricately decorated to resemble tree bark.

While most modern yule logs are chocolate-based, they can come in a range of flavors and varieties.

The first recorded mention of a yule log cake recipe was in a book published in 1895 (11).

Typically sliced into individual servings, yule logs are enjoyed either on their own or accompanied by a touch of whipped cream.

9. Cordero Asado

Cordero Asado: a Popular Spanish Christmas Food.
  • Origin: Spain
  • Often consumed in: Spain
  • Typical ingredients: Lamb, seasonings
  • Nutrition: High in protein, fat, and saturated fat

Cordero asado, the Spanish name for ‘roast lamb,’ is a popular and traditional Christmas dish in Spain.

Traditionally prepared by marinating lamb with a variety of herbs and olive oil, it is then roasted and served alongside an assortment of vegetables and potatoes.

After this, it is roasted and served alongside various vegetables and potatoes.

10. Christmas Pudding

Christmas Pudding: a Traditional English Christmas Dessert.
  • Origin: England
  • Often consumed in: Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa, United Kingdom
  • Typical ingredients: Sultanas, wheat flour, treacle/sugar, cider, wheat flour, rum, brandy
  • Nutrition: High in carbohydrate, sugars, and fat

‘Christmas pudding’ is a traditional Christmas dessert dish in the United Kingdom. It is also embraced in Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, and South Africa due to cultural and culinary ties.

Thought to trace its roots back to medieval England, the first named recipe for ‘Christmas pudding’ emerged in 1845 (12).

Typically comprising flour, eggs, molasses (treacle), suet, dried fruits, and various spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, Christmas pudding may also incorporate alcohol, such as brandy or dark rum, and nuts.

A distinctive feature of Christmas pudding is its aging process, ranging from two weeks to a few years. This aging process is believed to enhance its flavor while the alcohol and sugar content contribute to preservation.

Despite containing alcohol, a 2014 study confirmed that raises in blood alcohol content after consumption were negligible (13).

Often served with cream, hard sauce, or ice cream, Christmas pudding is a cherished holiday treat.

Photo of author

Michael Joseph, MSc

Michael works as a nutrition educator in a community setting and holds a Master's Degree in Clinical Nutrition. He believes in providing reliable and objective nutritional information to allow informed decisions.