‘Merry Christmas’ in many languages + traditional Christmas dishes

Dec. 11, 2023
Ginger cookie displayed at the Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt in Germany, one of the oldest Christmas Markets in the world. Photo: Getty Images.
Ginger cookies are displayed at the Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt in Germany, one of the oldest Christmas Markets in the world. Photo: Getty Images.

Do you want to try making traditional Christmas foods from several European countries? Check out the traditional holiday fare and learn how to say Merry Christmas in multiple languages.


Frohe Weihnachten!

Austrians mark Christmas with sweet cheese crêpes baked in a custard and sauced with apricot caramel.


Joyeux Noël!(French)

Vrolijke Kerstmis!(Flemish)

Pine trees are decorated with speculoos, gingerbread-like cookies spiced with cinnamon, ginger and clove, and decorated in white and red icings. Stuffed turkey is a common dinner, served with fried potato croquettes and finished with a bûche de Noël (yule log cake).


Glaedelig Jul!

Dinner on Christmas Eve is roast pork or duck with browned potatoes. Danish rice pudding comes for dessert, with a whole almond in one portion of it. The person who finds the almond gets an extra gift.


Merry Christmas!

Nadolig Llawn! (Welsh; literally “Full Christmas!”)

English Christmas is nearly identical to American Christmas, except for plum pudding, which has nothing to do with plums, but from the way that raisins and currants are “plumped” by warm brandy before the baking of the cake. Another big difference from the U.S.: They have a monarch who delivers an avidly watched Christmas Day address.


Hyvää Joulua!

Finns eat Christmas casseroles containing noodles, rutabagas, carrots and potatoes, served with baked ham or roast turkey.


Joyeux Noël!

By and large, the French roast goose rather than turkey (except in Burgundy where turkey is popular) and finish Christmas dinner with a bûche de Noël, or a cake shaped like a yule log. In ancient times, yule logs were burned throughout the night of December 24-25. Other regional Christmas delights include oysters in Paris; buckwheat cakes and crème fraîche in Brittany; and roast chestnuts in the Rhône.


Frohe Weihnachten!

The main sweet is stollen, a pastry dense, fruit-filled and aromatic with spice, and originally designed—with its layers of filigreed dough—to resemble the Christ child in swaddling clothes. By legend, on Christmas Eve in Germany, the rivers turn to wine; animals speak with each other; trees blossom with fruit; and mountains open to reveal precious gems. Perhaps this is because much mulled wine has gone down.


Kala Christougena! (In Greek letters: Καλά Χριστούγεννα!)

More turkey, but stuffed with spiced nuts and raisins and served with triangular-shaped, spinach-stuffed phyllo pastry pies. Actually, New Year’s Day is more important to Greeks than Christmas Day, though on January 1, interestingly, a “Christmas cake” is served.


Vrolijk Kerstfeest!

Oliebollen (“oil balls,” deep-fried flour and raisin pastries) accompany roast hare or rabbit, braised cabbage or chard, and potatoes. The Dutch beat all other countries for a head start on Christmas: in mid-November, St. Nicholas arrives from Spain with his assistant, Black Peter. Until December 5, Dutch children leave an empty wooden shoe by the hearth, in which a carrot or some hay has been placed for St. Nick’s donkey. In the morning, a small gift or some candy takes their place.


Nollaig Shona Duit! (Irish Gaelic)

Breakfast on Christmas Day is the big feed in Ireland: eggs, bacon, grilled tomatoes, potatoes, sausage links (blood sausage especially), fried bread and sautéed mushrooms, washed down with tea and even beer.


Buon Natale!

The week between Christmas and New Year’s is cottechino week, given over to this many-spiced, garlicky, fresh pork sausage, a key component to bollito misto (mixed boiled meats). But Christmas is best marked by panettone, the sweet, cylindrical yeast bread full of raisins, pine nuts, candied fruits (especially citron) and anise.


Gledelig Jul!

Lutefisk, of course, but also porridge and pork.


Boze Narodzenie!

Christmas dinner is unique in Poland. The table is set with one empty seat, as tradition dictates, for anyone, friend or stranger, who might knock on the door. And the dinner is in 12 courses—not including meat. Poppy seeds and honey are part of the menu as symbols of prosperity and peace.


Feliz Natal!

Like the Norwegians, the Portuguese eat dried cod soaked (in this case) with milk, served with boiled potatoes. Also, slices of bread soaked in eggs and wine and fried (a sort of French toast) and the “bolo rei,” a circular cake coated with glazed fruit, nuts and sugar icing.


Feliz Navidad!

The Spanish eat Christmas dinner right after midnight. Its highlight, if you are well off, is turkey stuffed with truffles—and roast sea bass with lemons, olive oil and bread crumbs, if you are not. But all Spaniards eat sweets on Christmas, especially those, such as nougat, containing the national nut, the almond.


God Jul!

More important than either December 24 or 25 in Sweden is December 13. It is St. Lucia Day, when The Queen of Light, chosen from each Swedish family, club, school or association, dresses in a long, white gown with a crown of candles in her hair and delivers gingerbread cookies and coffee. St. Lucia cakes mimic the crown and candles. On Christmas Eve, Swedes eat herring, ham and lentils.


Frohe Weihnachten! Buon Natale! or Joyeux Noël!

Because Switzerland is so diverse and made up of three dominant cultures (French, Italian and German), the Swiss celebrate Christmas with foods from those several cultures. But fish, especially Genevan char, is popular too.

About the author

For more than 40 years, Bill St. John’s specialties have been as varied as they are cultured. He writes and teaches about restaurants, wine, food & wine, the history of the cuisines of several countries (France, Italy, Spain, Belgium, and the USA), about religion and its nexus with food, culture, history, or philosophy, and on books, travel, food writing, op-ed, and language.

Bill has lent (and lends) his subject matter expertise to such outlets as The Rocky Mountain News, The Denver Post, The Chicago Tribune, 5280 Magazine, and for various entities such as food markets, wine shops, schools & hospitals, and, for its brief life, Microsoft’s sidewalk.com. In 2001 he was nominated for a James Beard Award in Journalism for his 12 years of writing for Wine & Spirits Magazine.

Bill's experience also includes teaching at Regis University and the University of Chicago and in classrooms of his own devising; working as on-air talent with Denver's KCNC-TV, where he scripted and presented a travel & lifestyle program called "Wine at 45"; a one-week stint as a Trappist monk; and offering his shoulder as a headrest for Julia Child for 20 minutes.

Bill has also visited 54 countries, 42 of the United States, and all 10 Canadian provinces.