7 World Holiday Food Traditions Worth Knowing
The holidays can be overwhelming with all of the traveling, shopping, and festive events, so it's important to take time to think about what the holidays really mean—for many of us, that means celebrating culture-based traditions with loved ones (many of which revolve around delicious food!)
Traditions are part of what keeps us in tune with our culture, and they remind us that we're a part of something bigger. The holidays are the perfect time to gather with loved ones and celebrate with delicious food.
Feast of the Seven Fishes
The Feast of the Seven Fishes is an Italian-American celebration of Christmas Eve with seven (or more!) different seafood dishes. It commemorates the Vigilia di Natale, or the vigil held until the midnight birth of the baby Jesus. Many Roman Catholics abstain from meat during certain times of the year, so seafood was often eaten on Christmas Eve. Today, the seafood served during the Feast of the Seven Fishes varies from clams to calamari, but baccalà, or salted cod, is probably the most commonly eaten dish.
Eating 12 Green Grapes at Midnight
In Spain, eating 12 grapes at midnight isn't just a tradition—it's a serious superstition. At the stroke of midnight on Nochevieja (Old Night), everyone gathers with their bowl of 12 uvas de suerte (lucky grapes). A set of chimes ringing from the Real Casa de Correos in Madrid—and broadcasted on live TV for the rest of the country—rings 12 times—one for each month. Every 2 seconds, you have to pop a new grape in your mouth (and try not to gag, choke, or laugh uncontrollably.) If you eat all 12 of your grapes by the end of the last bell, then you will have good luck in el año nuevo (the new year).
Some Latinos celebrate Noche Buena (Good Night) on Christmas Eve. Lots of food (and lots of booze!) are the two staples of Noche Buena, with traditional fare consisting of lechón as the star dish. Lechón is a whole pig cooked over charcoal, rotisserie-style over a fire, or in a Caja China roasting box (which apparently Williams Sonoma sells for $385).
Different countries have preferred ways of seasoning their lechón, but one thing is the same anywhere you go: good lechón is fork-tender and incredibly tasty.
Noche de los Rábanos
You may be familiar with the tradition of carving pumpkins on Halloween, but in Oaxaca, Mexico they carve radishes for the holidays. Noche de Rabanos (Night of the Radishes) is a tradition that stretches back over a century. Radishes are grown and harvested specifically for the event—they're much larger (sometimes weighing upwards of 6 pounds) and not meant to be eaten. In preparation for the event on December 23, artists spend days carving their designs—most motifs include the nativity scene, Mayan imagery, animals, and architecture. The best radish wins a prize of 12,000 pesos (about $645 USD.)
The Christmas Pickle
Some people in the United States hide a pickle-shaped ornament on their Christmas tree and let their children find it on Christmas morning. The one who discovers the ornament receives a reward or good fortune for the following year. No one is really sure where this odd tradition came from, though according to Martha Stewart Living, "historical evidence supports the theory that it was most likely fabricated by salesmen during the late 1800s to promote German glass ornaments in American stores." Womp womp.
Eating Soba Noodles
Soba noodles are eaten right before midnight in Japan, and it's bad luck not to finish your soba. Live Japan says, "The history of this curious tradition dates back around 800 years, to the Kamakura period, and it is said that it all started at one Buddhist temple that gave soba to poor people on New Year’s. In the Edo period, these New Year’s noodles, or toshikoshi soba, eventually turned into a fixed custom done by people all over Japan – even today."
Eating Black Eyed Peas and Collard Greens
This may sound like an oddly specific meal, but in the Southern U.S., you'll find displays of these items in grocery stores because of the widespread belief that this New Year's Day supper will bring you luck (black-eyed peas) and fortune (collard greens) in the year to come. Southern Living says, "If you serve peas with cornbread, it represents gold, and if they are stewed with tomatoes, it symbolizes wealth and health. Although we don’t endorse this practice, some people will even put a penny or a dime inside the pot of peas. Whoever is “lucky” enough to receive the coin will have the most luck for the rest of the year."