What Do Americans Eat At Christmas?
Today is a special day – we get to talk about our friends across the pond and learn a bit of cultural history! Americans are a mystery – equal parts friendly (at times too friendly) and self-absorbed, they tend to dominate the global culture, at least in popular media. You’ve surely seen A Christmas Story and countless other American classic Christmas films – but something that’s apparently been on the minds of many readers is what do Americans eat at Christmas? That’s a bit of a complicated question, but we’ll get there in time.
What do Americans eat at Christmas? That’s a complicated question – it’s like asking what Europeans eat at Christmas. It’s so complicated that we dedicated an entire article to it!
America is a big place with an eclectic mix of cultures that have blended over a long time (or a short one if you ask most people in other, older countries) so there’s a lot of ground to cover to get a satisfactory answer. Let’s dive right in!
What Do Americans Eat At Christmas?
As I said above, America is a big place with a more diverse culture and population than many other countries have. This has led to an eclectic assortment of meals that are popular on Christmas (and other holidays), so there are a few things we should discuss before truly diving in.
Americans (like Hobbits) love meat and potatoes. But really, who doesn’t? A good roast with potatoes and a few other root vegetables is sure to please even the pickiest of eaters, vegans and vegetarians aside. If you were to walk into the home of any “red-blooded American” on Christmas, you would likely see an assortment of foods that one may not expect, but there are three things you will absolutely find, regardless of the table:
- This could include poultry like a goose, chicken, duck, or turkey, depending on availability.
- You could have red meat like a steak, a lamb roast, or even venison!
- Perhaps the most common meat you’ll find on Christmas day is a roast – generally made with beef and a few root vegetables.
- Boil them, mash them, or stick them in a stew – one way or another, they’re guaranteed to be on the table come Christmas.
- Now, this may vary a bit from what most Brits think of when they hear gravy, but some form will be present. Whether it’s the dinner gravy we’re all accustomed to, or a white breakfast gravy (generally made with sausage), it will be accompanying the meat and/or potatoes.
- Stuffing – this is a bit of a toss-up. Some families love stuffing with Christmas meals, while other don’t.
Christmas Day in Other Families
Let’s, for a moment, say you lived in southern California. The meals you would find on Christmas tables in California will vary drastically from those in New York, Seattle, or Austin, Texas. This is in part due to the location (certain things are easier to come by on the west coast than the east), but a major role in this is the cultural melting pot that is southern California.
While you’ll likely find some of the same things mentioned above, there’s also going to be a heavy Latin influence on the food served. You’d likely find tamales, atole, and Menudo on the table during Christmas. All delicious, by the way, but very different from what an American in other parts would find.
Jewish American Families
Jewish American Christmas dinner is also something that many Brits may find strange. Families with Jewish heritage (for obvious reasons) don’t celebrate Christmas, but the rest of the country generally does. That means that dinner out isn’t often a common option – unless, of course, you wanted Chinese food. Yes, it’s a stereotype, and yes – it’s an accurate one. Chinese restaurants are generally open on Christmas day. This makes them an option of convenience that has turned into a tradition for Jewish American families.
In contrast to what you would find on most parts of the American coast (or Midwest), the southern parts of the country have their own traditions. Common foods you would find on their tables include:
- Collard greens
- Green beans
- Barbeque or smoked meats
- Dinner rolls
- And large amounts of “salad” that contains copious amounts of mayonnaise, Jell-O, and/or sugar. Don’t ask me why – I don’t understand it either.
Again, this is painting with broad strokes – these traditions will vary by family, though there are some common themes:
- Some families do a roasted duck or goose, while others will do special cuts of beef or pork
- Steamed chicken, similar to what’s served on the Chinese New Year is also common
- Prime rib
- Pho is common in Korean families, though many different families will often make special soups using rice or sweet potato noodles.
- Fruit! (Not so much a dish as common components to meals, or even given as gifts, depending on the culture of the family.)
Now, this is where American families really differ. Ask any American what their grandparents baked for Christmas and you’ll get a different answer for each. The stereotype (especially for families of English descent) is that fruitcakes will be on every table. This stereotype, in general, is wrong – though again, it depends on the family. Common desserts include:
- Frosted sugar biscuits
- Chocolate pecan pie (especially common with southern families)
- Pumpkin pie
- Apple pie
- Spritz biscuits (an almond-flavoured sugar or shortbread biscuit, often with dried fruit added)
- Pull-apart rolls (such as monkeybread)
- Layered or “bar” biscuits (see pictured above)
One final traditional meal for Americans is actually a massive change for most parts of the world. Rather than dinner, many American families actually gather for Christmas Day breakfast. And we’re not talking cereal or oatmeal – they go all out. If you showed up to an American’s home for Christmas breakfast, you would likely find:
- Various pancakes
- “standard” (buttermilk)
- Dutch pancakes
- Æbleskiver (Danish pancake balls)
- Breakfast meats
- Biscuits and gravy
- Not the British kind – we would call this a scone, technically. Served with a white sausage country gravy
- This could include latkes
- And obviously, eggs – lots of them.
Americans take breakfast very seriously. The idea of a Christmas breakfast comes from working families who often had to work on Christmas Eve and evening, meaning their only chance to gather is in the morning. Families would cook an elaborate breakfast, open gifts and exchange desserts (also important for American tradition) and then head off to work.
So what do Americans eat at Christmas? The answer is (clearly) as varied as if you asked what they ate on Tuesday! America is full of varied cultures that have blended past the point of singular traditions, which makes them incredibly unique to Europeans who have centuries of tradition from which to pull. You may find anything from a roast duck or goose to prime rib and smoked brisket on a Christmas table, though potatoes are a very common side that most families can agree upon.
Some families don’t even gather for dinner, rather, they make an elaborate and varied breakfast! The one commonality between most families on Christmas day is their obsession with dessert. Americans love dessert (I mean who doesn’t, really). Whether that means that they’re making pies, biscuits, or cakes, the variation is as great as the mind can imagine. So if you’re thinking of doing an “American Christmas,” go wild! There isn’t anything you can cook that will be out of place – the only limit is that it has to taste good and cannot be healthy in any way.