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Nov 2023

Mediterranean Christmas Meal Traditions

As we head into the festive season this December, here at Lovelife we've been thinking of traditions that bring together families and communities.

In the Mediterranean region, these customs are teeming with rich histories and cultural significance. Food, in particular, plays a central role in these celebrations – but it's not just about delicious food. Christmas is also about creating cherished memories with your loved ones via old traditions that have been passed down through the generations.

Social eating is a huge focus for us at Lovelife, so we wanted to celebrate the Mediterranean Christmas traditions and share them with our diners.

Greek Christmas Meal Traditions

In Greece, the Christmas season is heralded by a 40-day fasting period known as the 'Nativity Fast.' During this time, many Greeks abstain from meat, dairy products, and eggs. However, the fast is broken with a feast on Christmas Eve.

One of the highlights of this meal is the Christopsomo or "Christ's bread." Baked on Christmas Eve, this sweet bread is often decorated with a cross or the initials of the family members and signifies Jesus's love for humanity. The dining table also sees a spread of Melomakarona, traditional honey cookies symbolizing joy and happiness.

Christmas Day in Greece is celebrated with a grand feast which often includes roast lamb or pork. The meal also features an array of pies – cheese pie, spinach pie, and meat pie. It's a particularly nice touch that each dish carries its symbolism and story, adding to the richness of the festivities.

Mediterranean Christmas Meal Traditions

Spreading our net wider, across the Mediterranean you'll find that food traditions vary but all share a common thread – a focus on family, community, and celebration. Just like the team here at LoveLife.

In Italy, Christmas Eve is known for the 'Feast of the Seven Fishes,' a tradition that involves preparing seven different seafood dishes. This dinner reflects Italy's coastal heritage and honours the biblical significance of the number seven.

Spain's traditional Christmas meal takes place after 'La Misa Del Gallo,' or 'The Rooster's Mass.' Named after the rooster that announced the birth of Jesus, this midnight mass is followed by a feast which often includes turrón, a type of nougat, and polvorones, shortbread cookies.

In France, the 'Réveillon de Noël' or 'Christmas Eve Wake' involves a late-night meal after midnight mass. The dishes served vary by region but often include delicacies like escargot, foie gras, oysters, and a wide selection of cheeses.

What Mediterranean Christmas Dishes Have In Common

Despite the varied traditions across the Mediterranean, there are shared elements in these Christmas meals. For example, unlike a traditional British Christmas roast, there is a strong theme of seafood featuring prominently in many dishes due to the region's coastal geography.

The emphasis on family and communal dining is also a common thread. Meals are often elaborate affairs that require collective effort in preparation and are enjoyed together as a community. These shared meals foster unity and strengthen bonds among family members and friends.

Traditional Mediterranean Christmas Dishes

If you're looking for some inspiration for a Mediterranean-inspired Christmas, we've rounded up popular dishes across the Adriatic Sea for you.

Christopsomo: As mentioned earlier, this is a sweet bread baked on Christmas Eve in Greece. It's often decorated with religious symbols and serves as a tribute to Christ.

  • Melomakarona: These Greek honey cookies are a staple during Christmas celebrations. Made with flour, olive oil, and honey, they symbolize joy and happiness during the festive season.
Image of baked Melomakarona greek cookies.
  • Baccalà alla Vicentina: This is an Italian dish served during the 'Feast of the Seven Fishes.' Made with dried codfish slowly cooked in milk and onions, it's a comforting dish perfect for Christmas Eve.
Baccalà alla Vicentina: This is an Italian dish served during the 'Feast of the Seven Fishes.'
  • Cochinillo Asado: This Spanish dish is popular during Christmas. It's a roasted pig marinated in a mixture of garlic, oregano, and sour oranges, providing a delightful mix of flavors.
Roasted pig on a wooden platter
  • Balcalhau: With its extensive coastline, it comes as no surprise that fish and shellfish take centre stage during a Portuguese Christmas. Families gather around tables adorned with platters of bacalhau (salted cod), which is considered a quintessential part of any Portuguese Christmas feast. 

    The preparation methods vary from region to region but often involve soaking the dried salted cod in water for several days before cooking it into mouthwatering dishes such as Bacalhau à Brás (shredded cod with potatoes) or Bacalhau com Natas (cod gratin with cream).
Dish of Balcalhau on a white plate

Final Words

We hope you can see how Mediterranean Christmas meal traditions beautifully encapsulate the spirit of the season, specifically joy, togetherness, and reverence. 

With their focus on family and social dining, these traditions go beyond the realm of food, fostering unity and strengthening bonds.

Whether you're Greek, Italian, Spanish, French, or just a curious food-loving individual, why not incorporate some of these recipes into your festive celebrations? 

You might start a new tradition that will be passed down through generations. After all, Christmas is all about creating memories with our loved ones.

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