With food-loving colleagues from over 30 countries, five colleagues share their favourite festive food memories and traditions from their childhood.
Valentin’s French Christmas Traditions
In France, shops are opened on Christmas day morning. It is always an exciting time for us. After opening a few presents early in the morning, we go out and buy some fresh fish (salmon, oyster…), fresh cheese (of course) and fresh bread (essential). The main course for our dinner is similar to that in the UK, but I remember the nice smell of the turkey roasting in the oven in the morning. Everything was cooked fresh and is quite impressive when you think about it. Cheese is a proper course for Christmas dinner, and we always finish with a homemade chocolate yule log (my Grandad’s favourite part of the meal). Christmas lunch was quite lovely as everyone was involved in preparing the meal. I oversaw the dessert and quality control.
Miguel’s Portuguese Christmas Traditions
December 24th, Christmas Eve, is “bigger” than December 25th, at least when it comes to feasting at the table. We come together on Christmas Eve around the table and enjoy some beautiful food.
Part of the Portuguese family tradition is to cook a beautiful cod fish on Christmas Eve. According to Portuguese cooks, cod can be cooked in 365 different ways!
My mother would cook big chunks of cod fish, topped with onions, potatoes, carrots, and cabbage, and put it all in the oven to roast in a lot of olive oil, garlic, and fresh parsley. It is divine! – I still have dreams about it.
For dessert, her speciality would be “arroz doce”, which means “sweet rice” with cinnamon, a traditional dessert served across the country.
Yolanta’s Lithuanian Christmas Traditions
Our main celebration is Christmas Eve, where we would taste 12 different vegetarian dishes. Every dish was made from scratch, and most of the ingredients were even homegrown (well, apart from herring – we eat loads of it in Lithuania! During Advent and Christmas, my mum would usually start prepping 2-3 days ahead of Christmas Eve, and I helped her on the day. We would also put up our Christmas tree on Christmas Eve – and no plastic ones – only fresh ones!
Then, my dad would go to the cellar where he kept apples from autumn and bring some up because they were finally ready to eat. They would be too tough early in the autumn.
Richard’s Romanian Christmas Traditions
My Christmas lunches are not for the faint of stomach; traditionally, for us, it’s a very meaty affair. The great part is that my parents raise pigs and chickens at home and collect eggs from our own hens. We get milk from the neighbours, and Grandma contributes her skill by baking the bread, making everything taste truly magical. Christmas lunch is a special occasion as it coincides with my father’s name day, attracting many guests who come to greet him.
For this festive gathering, our table is adorned with a variety of cold platters. We indulge in Wiener Schnitzel, meatballs, and an assortment of rolled-up meats with various fillings. The cheese platter adds a rich and savoury touch, while the array of homemade sweets satisfies the sweet tooth. And, of course, a Christmas lunch would not be complete without my all-time favourite dish — stuffed sour cabbage, surprising everyone with its flavorful meat filling.
To incorporate some Romanian and Hungarian Christmas culinary traditions, we also feature regional specialities on our festive table. In Romania, a popular Christmas dish is “sarmale,” a variation of stuffed sour cabbage that often includes rice, minced pork, and various spices; another delightful Romanian treat is “cozonac,” a sweet bread filled with nuts, cocoa, and spices.
The Hungarian version of “sarmale” is “töltött káposzta,”. Additionally, “bejgli,” a pastry filled with poppy seeds or walnuts, is a cherished Hungarian Christmas dessert.
Incorporating these regional specialities creates an even more diverse and culturally rich Christmas lunch experience for our family and guests.
Susie’s UK Christmas Traditions
I have very fond memories of my childhood Christmas lunch.
My mum has always been a resourceful cook, making everything from scratch, including baking bread daily before we left for school.
Every element of our festive lunch was homemade, including the bread sauce, which I liked to help with – pushing the cloves into a raw onion, which simmered in the sauce; thick gravy made from meat juices; the stuffing rolled from sausage meat, herbs and chestnuts, mince pies lovingly created with homemade mincemeat and the Christmas pudding, made a few months in advance to improve the flavour. The leftovers formed our meals for the next few days, not forgetting the UK’s infamous turkey curry!
My Christmas lunch doesn’t live up to my mum’s, but I’m grateful for the incredible homemade food we enjoyed daily, not just on Christmas Day.