Many restaurants offer a “traditional” Christmas menu. But what does that mean? Christmas traditions, culinary and otherwise, vary from place to place. In the American South, collard greens, biscuits, and pimento cheese might well be on the table (black-eyed peas, too, though those are more traditional for New Year’s).
In some southern Italian and Italian-American households, the traditional meal is the Christmas Eve Feast of the Seven Fishes, or La Vigilia (The Vigil), involving seven kinds of seafood. (In observant Catholic households, adherents used to avoid meat until after midnight on December 24th, so this was a way to have a festive meal without animal flesh.)
Christmas fare in other countries varies widely. In the predominantly Christian Philippines, Christmas Eve, or Noche Buena, means hamón (honey-cured ham), rellenong manok (deboned chicken stuffed with meats, eggs, and other ingredients), and, for reasons nobody seems to remember, queso (or keso) de bola — a red-wax-covered ball of Edam cheese from the Netherlands.
In Central and Eastern Europe, the holiday meal often includes fried or roast carp. It’s roast duck, pork, or goose with red cabbage in Denmark, baked ham in Finland, roast pork belly in Norway, roast capon or some other large bird and the elaborate cake called bûche de Noel (Yule log) in France, tamales in Mexico and Central America.
If you visit restaurants in the U.S. featuring the cuisines of any of these places on or around Christmas, you’ll likely encounter foods like these. In restaurants serving American food, however, tradition is often defined as including luxury ingredients (foie gras, truffles, lobster), roast turkey or goose (Americans eat about 22 million turkeys on Christmas every year, about half as many as on Thanksgiving), and elaborate holiday-themed desserts.
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