A History of Christmas Feasts - SantaFe.com
Trattoria a Mano Santa Fe New Mexico

Did you know that in medieval times, the Brits served peacock at their Yuletide feast, along with wild boar, swan and even partridges, probably plucked from a pear tree? Turkey had no place at the Christmas banquet table until the 16th century, when Henry VIII introduced what later became a holiday tradition on both sides of the pond. While turkey has long been the centerpiece of our holiday feasts in the U.S., it’s fascinating to discover other Christmas culinary traditions around the world.

In Southern Italy, for instance, seafood often takes the starring role during La Vigilia, or The Vigil, a Christmas Eve feast celebrating the wait for the midnight birth of baby Jesus. The tradition traveled to the U.S., where Italian-Americans around the country mark Christmas Eve with the Feast of the Seven Fishes, which typically includes lobster, mussels, squid, baccalà (dried salt cod), whiting, anchovies and even eel. Why seafood on Christmas Eve? If you’re Roman Catholic you likely know the answer. It’s because an ancient Roman Catholic tradition forbids eating meat on the eve of a feast day, making fish the perfect go-to food on Christmas Eve.

In Greece, the Christmas Day feast begins with avgolemono, a savory chicken and rice soup with the bright notes of egg and lemon juice. Then there’s stuffed cabbage, filled with minced meat and rice, as well as pork, which is the traditional holiday entrée. Sweet treats include melomakarona, Christmas cookies spiced with cinnamon, cloves and orange, dipped in a spiced syrup and sprinkled with nuts. On Christmas Eve, many Greeks bake a loaf of Christopsomo, or “the bread of Christ,” using only the finest ingredients and decorating it with a cross or an “X,” which is the first letter in the Greek word for Christ. It’s enjoyed on Christmas day, placed at the table and surrounded by nuts and dried fruits. Each slice is drizzled with honey.

In Greenland, the indigenous Polar Inuits embrace Christmas with an array of traditions that are familiar to us, including Christmas trees, advent calendars, gifts and feasts. But the foods at their table are not so familiar, such as barbecued caribou and reindeer and mattak, or whale skin with blubber that’s said to taste like coconut. On the other side of the world, Ethiopians celebrate the holiday with Doro Wat, a slow-cooked stew of chicken and boiled eggs seasoned with chili, garlic, berbere, cardamon and ginger and served with injera bread, which is the country’s national dish. And Puerto Rico is part of the U.S., but you wouldn’t know it from the island’s traditional Christmas meal, which includes lechon, roast suckling pig, served with pasteles, pork wrapped in plantain leaves. Additional dishes include octopus salad, yellow rice with pigeon peas, capers, olives and ham and a creamy coconut pudding for dessert.

One of the unlikeliest Christmas culinary traditions is found in Japan, where a KFC advertising campaign launched a lasting trend. Back in the 1970s, the fast food chain began pushing chicken as a Christmas dish, because turkey wasn’t readily available. The company’s slogan was “Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!” (Kentucky for Christmas!) and the idea took flight. Today, some 3.6 million Japanese families feast on KFC during the Christmas season, when a set KFC holiday meal includes cake and champagne. This deal, though, is available only in the Land of the Rising Sun.

In Santa Fe, you’ll find some of these traditional Christmas foods on the holiday menus of some of our finest restaurants this season. Read about a few Christmas Eve and Christmas Day menus below and explore SantaFe.com’s Dining section for more holiday dining ideas. Don’t forget to make your reservations now as these restaurants tend to fill up during the holidays.

The festive Christmas Eve and Christmas Day feast created by Chef Sean Sinclair for Luminaria Restaurant and Patio at the Inn & Spa has nary a sign of turkey, and it creatively spans the globe. Start off with a dish bearing the colors of Christmas—Tender Brussels with crisp Brussels leaves, red grapes, chestnut and a honey dressing. The second course offers a choice of Pheasant Shu Mai and the Italian pasta classic, Cacio E Pepe. There’s an entrée for everyone, from Herb-Roasted Black Angus Prime Rib of Beef with Yorkshire Pudding to Crab-Capped Baked Flounder with Duchess Potato; Huckleberry Marinated Duck Breast; and Butternut Squash “Steak.” Tantalizing dessert options include Pumpkin Crepe Cake with French Vanilla Crème Anglaise and Cinnamon Sugar; Nutella Semi Fredo; and Pecan Mille Fuille with Eggnog Anglaise.

At Trattoria a Mano, you can have your own feast of fishes on Christmas Eve with several of the delectable seafood dishes on the four-course prix fixe menu. You could start with the Lobster, Treviso and Arugula Salad served with roasted beets, toasted pignoli nuts and Old Balsamic. Or begin with Chestnut Soup, with celery root gnocchi, pomegranates and fried sage leaves. The second course includes Pappardelle with Wild Mushroom and Boar (there’s a nod to the ancient Briton feasts). For your entrée, Grilled Branzino with broccolini, white beans and pancetta continues the Feast of the Seven Fishes theme, or you can opt for Classic Porchetta, an herbed pork tenderloin with agro-dolce vegetables and local mushrooms. Dessert will be a difficult choice between Zuppoa Inglese, sponge cake with orange and pistachio, or a Baked Caramel Apple with anisette ice cream. Buon Natale!

La Casa Sena‘s three-course menu, served on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, is full of elegant surf and turf offerings. You could begin with Cognac-Lobster-Butternut Squash Bisque, or Ahi Tuna Niçoise Salad or try the Beef Cheek Ravioli or Roasted Acorn-Butternut Squash Salad. Entrée options include a Grilled Cold Water Lobster Tail or Pan Seared Sea Bass, if you’re craving seafood. Meat-lovers can opt for Grilled New Mexico Buffalo with sautéed mushrooms, creamy fingerling potatoes, horseradish crema and beet-port puree; or Pork Osso Buco with jalapeño grits, sun-dried tomatoes, asparagus and brown gravy. For dessert, honey lavender panna cotta with blackberry coulis and honey ice cream sounds heavenly, but chocolate-lovers won’t want to miss Chocolate Paradise, a chocolate tulip with chocolate mousse, chocolate ice cream, pecans, caramel and fresh berries.

This article was posted by Cheryl Fallstead

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