Christmas is a time for family and food, regardless of where it’s celebrated. A traditional Christmas dinner in America can consist of many different dishes, due to America’s size and diversity. What’s considered traditional in America changes from region to region and family to family. "Traditional" is also a relative term. Few traditional dishes from the 1800s are still served at Christmastime today, save roast turkey. However, many traditional dishes from the 1900s and later are still seen on present-day tables.
The main dish is often the centerpiece for your entire Christmas meal. Roast turkey is one of the most common traditional main dishes served at Christmas. It can be served plain or stuffed with an assortment of ingredients such as potatoes and onions. While roasted is the most traditional cooking method, smoked and fried turkey can also be found on many holiday menus throughout the United States. The second most common traditional main dish for Christmas is ham. Baked or smoked, glazed or plain – any kind of ham is fair game for the holiday menu.
Hot Side Dishes
There are many warm side dishes that are considered traditional Christmas fare in America. Mashed potatoes -- plain or with gravy -- is a filling side with a mellow flavor that pairs well with many other dishes. Mashed sweet potatoes and sweet potato casserole are classic Christmas side dishes, especially in the South. Piping hot rolls or biscuits, usually with butter, is another traditional side that pairs well with many other dishes. Steamed green beans or carrots provide a light side dish, both in terms of taste and calories.
Cold Side Dishes
Cold side dishes, such as salads, provide a light side that helps balance out the heavier dishes in a traditional Christmas dinner. A simple garden salad or a mixed lettuce salad is an easy traditional dish to throw together for dinner. Sweeter salads include canned peach salad, which is more common in the South than in the North. Tangy cranberry sauce is a refreshing side dish that goes well with turkey or ham. Tangy cranberry jelly on biscuits also works well if you don’t have time to make sauce.
There are many yuletide desserts that have gone in and out of favor through the years, such as plum pudding. However, Christmas cookies are a traditional treat that Americans still love. Whether it's tree-shaped sugar cookies with green sprinkles or rum balls dusted with powdered sugar, any classic cookie is suitable after a traditional Christmas dinner. Fruitcake filled with candied fruits and usually aged in liqueur is another dessert staple when it comes to a classic Christmas dinner in America. Assorted old-fashion candies, such as peppermint sticks or peppermint bark, provide a light dessert for those who want a hint of sweetness after their meal. Mince pie, which contains a variety of minced fruits, provides a heavy dessert for those who want a powerful sweet after their meal.
- The Oxford Companion to America Food and Drink: Andrew F Smith
- The Christmas Cook: Three Centuries of American Yuletide Sweets: William Woys Weaver
- Food Timeline: Christmas Menu
- Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images