Be it for Christmas Eve dinner, Christmas Day lunch (or both for some families... scary thought! where's the peptobismol!), bringing the family together to sit down to a beautifully set table overflowing with a more or less elaborate feast seems to be a given in most places. Only thing that changes much is the menu! In my family we go for the Christmas Eve dinner, Spanish side winning over the American side. When we lived in the States we'd do both, going over to my Grandmother's for Christmas Day lunch, can't remember that far back though...
The obvious place to start would be the famous TURKEY DINNER. Famous because even if you've never had one, we've all probably seen one up on the big screen in all those (Hollywood) Christmas movies (more on those another day). Big U.S. tradition (probably 'cause the poor bird is native to North America), just about everyone I know across the pond has one of those in the oven on Christmas Day. Recipes change from family to family, but I don't see how you can change much except the stuffing. In my house we just do a basic crushed-dried-bread stuffing with onion and celery and raisins and walnuts and I don't remember what else and plenty of spices. My uncle and aunt in Florida apparently stuffed theirs with duck and chicken this year (am curious to hear how that came out!). While my aunt here in Spain (we've hooked her on the idea of stuffed turkeys this year) has given it a Spanish twist by stuffing the bird with the basic ingredients of a traditional "pelota navideña" (ground beef, raisins, apples and I dunno what else). Hmm, even some of my friends in Belgium were giving turkey a try this year!
An alternative (or sometimes supplement) to the turkey would be a roast ham in some families. In our case we had it in a second "Christmas" meal today (26th) when family came to visit.
So, there's the main dish, what shall we accompany it with? Keeping with what I know: Waldorf salad (apples, walnuts, grapes, celery and some mayo), candied yams (yummmmmm! my favourite! sliced sweet potatoes over some butter, brown sugar and honey -with a bit more sprinkled on top- baked in some orange juice), stuffing (from the bird), some green vegetable (my dad likes peas, I prefer broccoli), mashed potatoes and gravy. That sounds about right. Ouf! Just listing it all makes me feel bloated again! :p
And that's not even talking about appetizers! And after all that comes dessert!!! I don't know of any "traditional" dessert stateside. We've usually had some kind of fruit pies (lemon or cherry or pumpkin) or flan. And to complete the Spanish touch, turrón! Plenty of wine with dinner and champaign (or cava, Spain's sparkling wine) with dessert.
Hmmm, now that I think of it I don't really know of any other "traditional" Christmas meals! I should probably write my friends in France and Belgium and ask them... but we'll see if I get around to it. :p
In Spain there are various options for the main course, alternating between roast beef or lamb (ternera o cordero asado), suckling pig (cochinillo asado), a kind of stew with Christmas meatballs (cocido con pelotas) or seafood up north. What's typical is to have some form of shellfish among the first course (be it shells or gambas or... lots of options!), and definitely the un-missable turrón among the desserts! If there's a single national Spanish Christmas tradition, it's CAVA and TURRON (Spanish champaign) for dessert during the Christmas. No pueden faltar en la mesa! Each year there are massive advertising campaigns for the two products. The two main cava rivals try outspending each other to produce elaborate TV commercials (that are a frequent conversation topic: "which did you prefer, the Codorniù or Freixenet ad?", here's a blog post -in Spanish- discussing last year's Freixenet ad, directed by none other than Scorsese! includes the full 6' version of the ad). And the turrón ads hark back to a "family" theme; for many years one brand's catchphrase (and jingle) was "vuelve, a casa vuelve, por Navidad" (return home for Christmas, playing on the fact that family comes together, and turrón is usually only eaten at this time of the year). So, what is turrón you ask? It's a sort of nougat, originally from my region of Spain (province of Alicante), and the basic ingredients are almonds, egg whites, sugar and honey. Wikipedia lists the oldest recipe found as dating from the 16th century, but says it's been known as a product of Jijona since the 15th century, (more info on Spanish wikipedia). There are two traditional varieties: "hard" (turrón de Alicante) and "soft" (turrón de Jijona), the first being made with whole almonds and requiring you to litterally smash it with a hammer or by banging it on the table to break up the tablet, while the second is made with crushed almonds reduced to a paste (easier to eat, but stickier). Although variations on the theme can be found in many other countries (and notably around the Mediterranean basin), only the stuff made here can be legally called turrón, they've got a patent on the name I think? It's a "denominación de origen" (like you can only call a sparkling wine champaign if it comes from the region of Champagne in France).
That's about all I can think of... maybe I should have done some more research? Nah, this would be more interesting if anyone reading this would share some of their traditional family meals in the comments! ;o)
In any case, BON APETIT! :o)
Here's a clip from this year's Freixenet ad, with the Spanish Olympic silver-medallist synchronised swimming team:
ditto for Codorniù: