Insider’s Guide: Christmas food and drink traditions across Europe

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All across Europe, glasses are raised in unison and another toast is held to the Christmas season. Guests of Inghams staying in the fantastic fully catered Chalet Hotels can enjoy their classical Christmas dinner of roast turkey, crispy roasted potatoes, cranberry sauce, and brandy soaked plum pudding with everything else on the side! But naturally, of course, you might be curious as to what your local neighbours are having for Christmas dinner!

Our Insider’s Guide: 8 Quirky Christmas traditions to watch out for when skiing in Europe showcased a range of interesting and quirky European Christmas traditions that you can enjoy while skiing over the Christmas period, and this short guide will give you an overview of what food and drink people around Europe will be celebrating with on Christmas Day.

While bringing home a complete 3-course Austrian feast might be a bit difficult (not to mention a bit messy...!) we’ve even included a couple of suggestions for bites and nibbles you can take back to the UK with you!




Christmas dinner in Italy is a delicious feast of homemade goodies, where everyone in the family chips in. Here at Inghams, we are happy to have the company of Ivana, who has spent many of her Christmases in Italy with her family and has plenty of tasty stories to tell...

To begin with, there is the tradition of ‘fasting’ on Christmas Eve across the Catholic regions, but this often simply means that you must forego eating meat until Christmas Day. In Italy it is called giorno dim agro, and the prospect of eating lean for the day poses absolutely no problems for the Italians, rather, it is a fantastic opportunity for families to showcase their seafood cooking skills! Italians tuck into a vast sea food medley with salted cod, clams, calamari, sardines, eel... just to name a few!

The lunch/ dinner of Christmas Day itself (it’s quite hard to draw the line between meals, especially when the eating never stops!) tends to begin with the classic Italian antipasto of cured meats, cheeses and olives followed by fresh pasta courses including baked cannelloni and lasagne Verdi alla Bolognese.

The main course is usually a meat dish served de rigueur and can consist of roasted veal, braised beef, with poultry also popular across many regions, this is often served with the usual roasted trimmings such as potatoes and other regional favourites.

Rich Italian espresso is served as an aperitif along with sweet treats like the Italian Christmas cake, panettone. Panettone is a dry kind of sweet cake that is available to buy in the UK, but also on sale throughout Christmas markets in Italy and makes a delightful treat to bring home from your holiday!

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In France, people traditionally celebrate le réveillon on the night before Christmas, and this is often the word used for a luxurious dinner party that is held either before or just after Midnight Mass.

The food is usually quite extravagant with a seafood starter of oysters, lobster, and smoked salmon, followed by foie gras, venison and cheeses. The main meal being a delicious roast turkey or goose stuffed with chestnuts, washed down with plenty of wine or champagne.

One French tradition, which is unmistakably French and popular across the entire nation (as well as Quebec and the former French colonies) is having bûche de Noël, or Yule Log cake for dessert. A sumptuous chocolate sponge roulade, shaped to resemble the Christmas Yule Log is often decorated with holly and sprinkled with white icing sugar; it is typically a sweet treat that all generations love.

In fact, bûche de Noël is adored so much over here at Inghams that sometimes our reps are given specific instructions to bring one home with them when they visit for Christmas! You can find many versions of this delicious cake in beautiful packaging as a souvenir just waiting to be bought home for everyone to enjoy.

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Switzerland is a cornucopia of different Christmas customs, with four different languages in such a small country; they often come with numerous different traditions with Germanic, Italian and French heritage.

Traditionally, however, Switzerland is much like the rest of Catholic Europe; the main event takes place on Christmas Eve. Families abstain from eating meat on this day for religious reasons, preferring fish courses (carp in particular) with potato salads.

On Christmas day itself, dinner is usually a standard meal of chosen poultry (sometimes turkey stuffed with chestnuts if the region is predominantly French), or goose, suckling pig and sausages, with some Swiss favourites thrown in like fondue, gratin (made with potatoes or artichoke), rosti and cured ham.

Gingerbread is also extremely popular across the German-speaking regions of Switzerland, and gingerbread houses and Christmas trees are a delight to make, decorate and display in homes until it’s time to eat them! German stollen fruit cake is also a delicious treat not to miss and there are always plenty of biscuits and marzipan goodies to go around.

All of the yummy sweet biscuits and cakes (stollen cake and gingerbread) are on sale all across Christmas markets in Switzerland and thanks to their dry content they are extremely easy to pack into your suitcase and bring home as a gift for a friend or relative, or simply a reminder of the great trip you had.

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In Austria, Christmas traditions are very similar to those of its neighbouring countries of Germany and Switzerland. However, the main Christmas dinner is not turkey, chicken or any kind of poultry, but usually a dish of fried carp.

Fried carp is so popular in Austria that there are tanks in the market square selling live carps, and lots of families often keep the fish alive in their bath tubs until Christmas Eve comes around, then it can be gutted and eaten along with all sorts of other lovely dishes on the side, including cabbage and potato courses. However, in the more recent years, more people have opted for turkey or chicken as the main Christmas meal over the traditional carp.

Chocolate delicacies are also extremely popular across the region and they are often sculpted and moulded into all sorts of delightful ornamental decorations which are eaten at the end of the Christmas season. Other sweet things include plenty of marzipan, stollen cake (a traditional German fruit cake with a sweet marzipan middle) and other cakes and sweetbreads.

Sweeties like these are great gifts for nieces, nephews, grand children and kids of all ages! They also make fabulous Christmas souvenirs and they are often sold throughout Austrian Christmas markets decorated with local festive greetings, the national flag and ‘Frohe Weinachten!’ in bold print!

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Norway, similar to the rest of Europe adheres to the tradition of eating Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve, however their cuisine can be quite modest compared to the rich feasts of Italy and France!

It is a fact universally acknowledged that Christmas is a fantastic time for sweet things and cakes, but no-one quite enjoys their biscuits and pepperkaker (gingerbread!) quite like the Norwegians do. Throughout the Christmas season, families are always baking sweet treats which are then decorated with traditional greetings like ‘God Jul’ (Merry Christmas) and are then used as edible ornaments and given as gifts.

These little Norwegian gingerbread biscuits are excellent souvenirs to bring home to your friends and family after your Christmas spent visiting Santa in Lapland!

There is also the traditional Julegrøt eaten as dessert, which is a type sweet rice porridge/ pudding (sometimes there is an almond hidden in the pudding and this entices a similar game to finding a penny in the Christmas pudding- the one who finds the almond is thought to be lucky for the year), and the Julekake, which is a traditional Norwegian Christmas bread, baked with cardamom and candied citrus fruits.

Christmas dinner in Norway usually consists of either pork belly or mutton ribs, with cabbage and sometimes a side dish of preserved fish. Due to the geographical location of Norway and Finland, many traditional foods are the ones that can be salted, cured and preserved over the long winter months within the Arctic Circle. However, thanks to the invention of the refrigerator, many of these ancient traditions are beginning to change...

But Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas in Lapland without a delicious sweet mug of Gløgg- which is Norwegian for mulled wine!

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