By Kristen Castillo

October 29, 2015 6 min read

Though Christmas and Hanukkah are both celebrated around the world, there's no set menu. Though different cultures tweak recipes to make their own yummy food traditions, family tradition reigns supreme.

"Food connects generations," says Paula Shoyer, author of "The Holiday Kosher Baker."

"We should have certain recipes that we make every year for certain holidays that our children will associate with each holiday and hopefully pass on to their own children," she says.

Spin your globe! It's time to map out holiday menus.


Christmas Down Under happens during Australia's summer, so many holiday food and drinks are more suitable for warm weather. Think cool drinks rather than eggnog or cocoa.

Cold turkey and ham are perfect Aussie Christmas. Christmas desserts may include a summer pudding featuring mixed berries, sugar and bread, as well as English tarts and cheese logs. Pavlova, an Aussie meringue dessert is also a customary holiday treat.


Canadians enjoy Quebec Tourtiere. This pie, made with pork, sausage and potatoes, is typically eaten Christmas Eve after midnight mass. It can be made in advance and can be cooked in just 30 minutes.

Turkey is a traditional holiday dinner in Canada, especially when made featuring local birds and regional ingredients, such as turkey with Northern Ontario wild rice and apple stuffing. Goose is also common, as are sides like turnips and squash.


Pork is on the table at Christmas in Cuba.

"The most important traditional Cuban tradition is roasting a whole pig," says chef Douglas Rodriguez, a James Beard Award-winning chef and restaurateur based in Miami, who explains: "The real tradition is snacking and sipping rum while roasting the pig."

He says the "male alpha Cuban" roasts the pig while women prepare avocado salad, moros (beans) and yuca con mojo (yucca with garlic).

Another traditional Cuban dish: corn tamales. "Like in all Latin countries, tamales are a holiday favorite," he says, noting Cuban tamales are made with fresh unripe corn.


Weihnachten, which means Christmas in German, is a big feast. Carp, Weihnachtskarpfen, eaten on Christmas Eve, is served with potatoes or potato salad. Cheese and meat fondue are other Christmas Eve entrees.

Goose, known as Weihnachtsgans, is a traditional dinner, served with red cabbage and dumplings. Sausages -- as well as meat and cheese fondue -- are also main courses.

Germans toast the holiday with drinks like punch, cider and hot rum.


"Jewish cooks are very creative and often prepare food from all over the world," says Shoyer. "Yet, especially at holidays, we still want to share dishes with family and friends' dishes that remind us of our own history and culinary heritage."

Hanukkah in Israel is celebrated with doughnuts, called "sufganiyot" in Hebrew.

The history of making potato latkes started in Eastern Europe in the 1800s. "The tradition is to eat fried foods during Hanukkah to recall the miracle of the small pot of oil that lit the Temple menorah for eight nights," says Shoyer.

Sweets are popular holiday foods, too. Rugelach -- crescent shaped pastries -- started in Vienna in the 1860s. Cookies shaped like menorahs and dreidels are Hanukkah staples as well.

"The tradition was to give people money," says Shoyer. Meaning "money" in Yiddish, gelt as a Hanukkah gift began in Europe in the Middle Ages. Shoyer adds, "An American chocolate company came up with the idea to make a chocolate version in the early 1900s." And now these chocolate candies wrapped in gold foil are very common.


Natale, or Christmas in Italian, is celebrated with a fish dinner such as tuna and salmon on Christmas Eve, as well as pastas like spaghetti and ravioli. Kids and adults enjoy a slice of panettone (a sweet, raisin bread) and hot chocolate after mass.

On Christmas Day, the menu consists of antipasto (cured meats, olives and cheese), followed by pasta and a meat course like veal, chicken or beef. The meal finishes with desserts like amoretti (almond cookies) and pizzelle (anise flavored cookies).

*United Kingdom

In the U.K., Christmas dinner typically includes turkey, carrots, cranberry sauce and sprouts. Mulled wine and pigs in a blanket are traditional, too. The meal finishes with a Christmas plum pudding, as well as mincemeat pies and chocolates.


Credit: Chef Douglas Rodriguez

1 can evaporated milk

1 can condensed milk

2 egg yolks

3 cups water

10 whole cloves

3 cinnamon sticks

1 tablespoon nutmeg

1 cup light brown sugar

2 tablespoons vanilla extract

Zest of orange

1 bottle dark rum

In a large pot, bring water, sugar and spices to boil. Reduce to simmer. Simmer one hour, then remove from heat. Strain liquid and reserve. In same pot, bring milk and egg yolks to a simmer, stirring until thickens. Add remaining ingredients and remove from heat. Cool, bottle and refrigerate.

"The holidays can not start without holiday cheer," says chef Douglas Rodriguez.

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