Many major holidays, like Hanukkah, Christmas, and the New Year are celebrated in nations across the globe, but food traditions vary from place to place.
Christmas is a major affair in Greece, and there are many ways in which people celebrate. Many religious Greeks fast before Christmas. When feast day finally arrives, it's a time to go all out. One traditional sweet that still has a place at festive holiday tables is melomakarona, a sweet, honey-soaked cookie topped with ground walnuts and eaten on Christmas Day after breaking the fast.
One of several popular holiday desserts in Poland, babka, a kind of sweet bread, is ubiquitous during the Christmas season. Other treats, like cookies made with honey and poppy seeds, are also common, but bread is essential to the Christmas meal in Poland. Traditionally this festive meal is eaten on Christmas Eve, starting with breaking bread after a long day of fasting. Many Polish families set an extra place for a lone wanderer who might happen to pass through during this special dinner, which is usually meatless and composed of other staples like beet soup, boiled potatoes, and herring with sour cream.
SWEDEN: SAFFRON BUNS
On December 13, the official start of the Christmas season in many Nordic countries, citizens of Sweden and other Scandinavian nations celebrate St. Lucia's Day. Tradition dictates that the eldest daughter dress in a white gown tied with a red sash and a crown of lit candles, then wake her parents with hot coffee and a tray of saffron buns, like the one pictured here. Swedes also elect a national Lucia every year, and many towns and villages across the country choose a Lucia to represent them as well.
In Ukraine, adherents of the Ukrainian Orthodox church must stick to a strict diet during the Christmas holiday that excludes many items indulged in around the world, like those containing fat, sugar, and meat. Holiday dinner must adhere to those guidelines, including special foods like kutia (pictured), which is sweetened with honey and includes ingredients like wheat, poppy seeds, and nuts. The dish cannot be enjoyed until the first star appears in the night sky.
Brazil's inhabitants come from many different countries and cultures. It's a true melting pot, and its cuisine reflects that. Turkey is often the main course served on Christmas. Yet in such a huge nation there are bound to be regional differences, and in certain places fish or pork may be more prevalent. Colored rice is a popular side dish, no matter where in the country you are, and Brazil nuts are also usually served. Dessert is all over the map — everything from Italian panettone to Portuguese rabanada (fried bread sprinkled with sugar) could make an appearance on the holiday table.
PERU: SPICED HOT CHOCOLATE
In Peru, spiced hot chocolate is a Christmas tradition. In December, churches around the country take donations to make massive quantities of it, as well as panettone, a traditional Italian holiday bread. The bread and hot, sweet, spicy drink are served to the less fortunate in the weeks leading up to Christmas. On December 24, also called Noche Buena, Peruvians have their big holiday meal, often featuring tamales or a roast turkey (as in Brazil), and many families celebrate with a champagne toast.
PHILIPPINES: ROAST PIG
In the Philippines, a whole roasted pig is often the centerpiece of an elaborate Christmas meal. The season officially starts on December 16, when daily dawn masses begin, continuing through Christmas Day. The big holiday meal, served after mass on Christmas Eve, is full of delectable choices. Aside from a main pork dish, the meal often includes other Filippino favorites, like oxtail stew, queso de bolo (a kind of cheese), and flan.
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