Christmas Breakfast Around the World
Atole, bibingka, cougnou, and more
Can Christmas just go ahead and get here already? It seems like it’s been the brink of Yuletide since ‘round about Halloween, with carols playing all over the places, stores stocked with ornaments, gifts, and décor, holiday-themed movies and very special TV episodes—and of course, the endless ads and commercials. Don’t they realize we just wanna get to Christmas morning? We’re talking about breakfast, of course. Countries and cultures all around the globe have foods that are so very inherently tied to Christmas morning or the whole holiday season, and we’ve gift-wrapped a few of our favorites for you to savor.
This warm, masa-based drink has been passed down since the Azetecs, and in plenty of Mexican households, it just wouldn’t be Christmas morning without it. While there are infinite variations, including fruit, nuts, and spices, chocolate is especially favored on the holiday. Add cinnamon along with it and it becomes a champurrado.
Winter is serious business in Finland, lasting three to seven months, depending on how far north you are. Unsurprisingly enough, the Finnish have mastered comfort foods like riisipuuro. It’s a rice porridge made with plum juice and served as a cozy breakfast year-round, but at holiday time, it’s traditional to hide almonds in the porridge. Whoever finds them is said to have a lucky year ahead of them.
Sorry, fruitcake, but Stollen kicks your butt. This currant, raisin, fruit, and nut-studded bread is a staple of the German holiday season. It can be spiked with rum if you’d like, but in any case, it should be made a few days in advance so there’s plenty of time for the flavors to meld before Christmas morning.
"Cougnou," "cougnolle," or "the bread of Jesus" is a brioche loaf that is formed to resemble the shape of a swaddled baby. This sweet bread, often covered in grains, chocolate chips, and raisins, occupies every Belgian bakery during the holiday season. It’s usually served to children on Christmas morning with a steamy cup of hot chocolate for dunking and soaking the bread.
Puerto Rico: Pasteles
Pasteles, meat patties wrapped and steamed in banana leaves, are Puerto Rico’s answer to tamales. Instead of cornmeal, the masa is made of yuca and grated green bananas. The filling traditionally consists of pork, peppers, onions, olives, raisins, and capers. The whole family gathers to prepare and freeze pasteles in bulk to last the whole holiday season. It’s a labor intense affair, so they form an assembly line and share the workload.
Jamaica: Ackee and Saltfish
Jamaica’s national dish ackee and saltfish is a sauté that tastes and looks similar to scrambled eggs—just without the eggs, of course. It’s a combination of codfish, boiled ackee, Scotch Bonnet peppers, tomatoes, thyme, garlic, and onion. The dish is eaten every Sunday morning and on special occasions not limited to Christmas. Ackee and saltfish is just one component to a complete breakfast. It’s usually served alongside other Jamaican specialties like callaloo, breadfruit, boiled green bananas, beef liver, and fried plantains.
Although they’re eaten year-round, krofne—round, puffy yeast doughnuts traditionally filled with jelly, jam, and custard—are especially popular throughout the Christmas season. The holeless doughnuts have a similar texture to beignets and can also be stuffed with butter, chocolate, and very occasionally cinnamon.
“Christopsomo” literally means “Christ’s bread,” and that might explain why the top of the loaf is decorated with the Byzantine cross, or an “X,” the first letter of the word Christ. The light, buttery, sweet bread is flavored with nuts, raisins, and warm fall flavors like cinnamon, nutmeg, anise, and clove. It’s traditionally baked on Christmas Eve and eaten on Christmas Day. Before breakfast, the head of the household makes the sign of the cross over the load and passes a piece to each person at the table.
Bibingka, a Filipino delicacy that's both sweet and chewy, is a rice cake cooked over charcoal in a banana leaf-lined clay pot. It can also be made from scratch at home in a cast iron skillet, but it’s a time-consuming process. That’s why many Filipinos are prompted to purchase the cake from street vendors outside of churches after mass on Christmas morning.