Christmas Around the World, Part 2

Great Britain Happy Christmas! Many Christmas traditions in America (like hanging mistletoe) come from Great Britain, but the country still has unique differences.

Like children in the U.S., British children often write letters containing what they would like for Christmas. Some put the letters in the post, but traditionally they throw the letters into the fireplace to be carried up by the draft. Father Christmas receives these letters and leaves gifts in the stockings hung by the fireplace. The gifts aren't usually opened up until mid-day on Christmas because of church.

The day after Christmas is called Boxing Day; historically, the name comes from collecting money for the less fortunate in clay boxes, and then when they were full the collectors would break them open. Boxing Day today is known primarily as a shopping and sport day, though it still includes giving to those in need.

Christmas traditions in Great Britain continue until January 5, which is Twelfth Night. These twelve days between Christmas and January is where the "Twelve Days of Christmas" comes from.

"For Christmas lunch in England," says Anna Buttimore of Thundersley, England, "we always have roast turkey with all the trimmings - cranberry sauce, parsnips, Brussels sprouts, roast potatoes, chipolatas, and this Bread Sauce. Traditional Christmas desserts, such as Christmas pudding and Christmas cake, contain lots of dried fruit, which I don't like, and often contain copious quantities of alcohol. So I look forward to eating my chocolate Yule log instead as the children play with whatever Father Christmas left in their stockings and Hubby Dearest eats mince pies and watches the Queen's speech."

English Mincemeat Pies

  • 1 1/4 pounds round steak, cut into small pieces
  • 1 cup apple cider
  • 4 tart apples (Granny Smith), peeled and chopped
  • 1 1/3 cups sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups dried currants
  • 2 1/2 cups raisins
  • 1/2 pound candied mixed fruit peel, chopped
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 16-ounce jar sour cherry preserves
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 (16-ounce) can pitted sour cherries, drained, liquid reserved
  • 1 recipe pastry for a 9-inch double-crust pie
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
In a heavy pot, combine steak and apple cider. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and cook for about 20 minutes, or until meat is tender. Stir in chopped apples, sugar, currants, raisins, fruit peel, butter, and cherry preserves. Add ginger, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, and salt. Let simmer, uncovered, over low heat until mixture is very thick, about 90 minutes. Stir in cherries and remove from heat. Refrigerate, tightly covered, for at least a week before using. Preheat oven to 350° F. Put filling in unbaked pie shell (or make 3-inch tarts the way we do) and place pastry on top. Crimp edges and poke several holes in top pastry. Brush top with cream and sprinkle with sugar. Bake in preheated oven for 40 minutes, or until golden brown. Makes 1 whole pie or 6 to 8 3-inch tarts.

Growing up, mincemeat pies were part of our family Christmas tradition. Normally, they would be brought out as a sweet course at the end of our main meal; we would eye them lovingly, questioning whether there was room to eat anything else.

Roderic Buttimore Southend Ward Romford England Stake Thundersley, Benfleet Essex, England

Japan Merii Kurisumasu! Even though it's not a national holiday, Christmas is still a big hit in Japan. They decorate with Christmas trees and give each other gifts. The Japanese Christmas Cake, much like strawberry shortcake, is one of the most prominent traditions. Since only 2 percent of Japanese people are Christian, the focus of the holiday is helping others. Many families spend the day in service.

In Japan, there is a kind old man called Hoteiosho, who is like Santa Claus. He carries a huge pack and is said to have eyes in the back of his head, so the children behave if they ever think that he is around.

For Japanese Latter-day Saints, the holiday is a special time when they can draw together and celebrate Christ. "Every Japanese ward has a spiritual celebration in the chapel," says Yoko Ikegami of Himeji City. "We then eat together, and everyone brings a food to share. Sometime on Christmas Eve, we go caroling in front of the train station where there are many people coming and going. Some people stop to listen and enjoy the singing."

Japanese Christmas Cake

  • 3 eggs
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon milk, warmed
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • various fruits (such as strawberries, peaches, cherries, oranges)
Whisk eggs in a bowl. Place the bowl over warm water in another large bowl and continue whisking. Add 2/3 cup sugar a little at a time. When the egg mixture becomes light yellow, sift flour and add to the bowl. Mix the flour lightly into the egg mixture. Mix butter in warm milk; add to batter and stir gently. Preheat oven to 350° F. Line an 8-inch cake pan with waxed paper. Pour the batter into the pan and bake for 25 to 35 minutes. Remove the cake from the pan and cool it on a rack. Cut the cake in half horizontally. Mix heavy cream and 4 tablespoons sugar in a bowl. Whip the cream well. Take half of the whipped cream and mix with chopped fruits. Place part of the cream on top of a round cake slice. Place another cake slice on top of the cream. Spread the rest of the whipped cream on top of and around the cake. Decorate the cake with colorful fruits and Christmas decorations. Makes 6 servings.

Yoko Ikegami Himeji Ward Kobe Stake Himeji City, Hyogo-pref, Japan

Brazil Feliz Natal! Down in Brazil, the Christmas season is in the summer. Papai Noel, or Father Christmas, comes from Greenland and wears silk clothes because it's so hot outside. On Christmas Eve, children leave out their shoes, and Papai Noel comes during the night and fills them with small gifts, and leaves other gifts hidden around the house.

Because Brazil used to be Portuguese colony and has a strong influence from other European immigrants (like German), they take many European Christmas traditions, like the Christmas dinner. Although it is unusual for a summer day, they eat a large dinner with turkey, ham, rice, beans, and fresh fruit. Many families have a midnight dinner.

Many Brazilians celebrate the Christmas season until Three Kings Day on January 6. This day celebrates when the Magi brought gifts to Baby Jesus.

Feijoada (Brazilian Meat and Bean Stew)

  • 1 pound black beans
  • 1 pound pork shoulder
  • 1 pound smoked sausage
  • 1 pound carne seca or beef jerky
  • 3-4 strips smoked bacon
  • 4 pork chops
  • 2 small or 1 large onion
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • Olive oil
  • 2 large bay leaves
  • Hot pepper sauce (optional)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Wash the beans and soak them overnight. Next day, put them in a pot of new water and boil until they are tender; this will take at least an hour. As the beans are cooking, put pork shoulder, sausage, carne seca (available at Latin markets), bacon, and pork chops in a pot of water and boil for 1 1/2 hours. Cut the onions and garlic in small pieces and cook them in oil until they are a bit golden. Add them to the meat. Add the cooked beans to the meat, then add the bay leaves, hot pepper sauce, and salt and pepper. Cook for another hour until all the flavors are mixed together. Remove the bay leaves and separate the meat. Cut the meats in slices and put the beans on the middle of a platter with the meats around the sides. This is best prepared while listening to good Brazilian music and best eaten with friends and family. Makes 12 servings.

Feijoada is the traditional dish of Brazil. Everyone has a different favorite version; the exact ingredients are not as important as how you eat it. You should be celebrating something - anything - when you eat it with your family and friends. This is especially good for celebrating Christmas with all the people you love.

In Brazil we celebrate often - it doesn't matter what - and so we eat often. Part of the celebrating is the wonderful Brazilian sounds of music and conversation and happiness. It is all part of this delicious celebration. You can change the ingredients according to what's available and what you like best. Whatever you choose, remember that Feijoada is about more than just eating. It is about celebrating!

Leontina Van der Ham de Silva Alameida Ward Partenon Stake Porto Alegre Brazil

Romania Craciun fericit! Romania has many different cultural influences, so traditions vary across the country. The most widespread tradition, however, involves caroling. These songs include traditional texts, dances, and images. While carolers sing, children carry stars that they have cut out of cardboard and decorated with Bible scenes. Friends and family often bring instruments as they carol together, and the people at the houses usually give food to the carolers, or sometimes if they're lucky, money. The carolers move from house to house all night until the sun comes up on Christmas morning.

Mos Craciun, or Old Man Christmas, brings gifts, but gifts are given and opened on Christmas Eve instead of Christmas Day. Out in the villages, gifts usually are simple, like fruit, nuts, and pastries. Although Christmas is celebrated on December 25 in Romania, sometimes Christmas is compounded with New Years Eve, as it is in the neighboring country, Moldova.

Food is a large part of the holiday, and the women in the family often end up cooking for three days prior to Christmas. Teo Aemilius says about cozonac, a traditional cheese bread, "Cozonac is Romanian Christmas bread. The smell of this delicious bread baking means it is Christmastime in Romania - time for merriment and lots of good food. It means it's time for singing Romanian Christmas songs, for laughing, and for eating cozonac with apples or sweetened cottage cheese, yeast doughnuts with lemon curd filling, and other lovely Old World-style foods, such as fresh sarmale (cabbage rolls), mititea (sausage), and pickled cucumbers. It means Mosu Craciun is about to arrive. It means that soon there will be toys for the youngest children and stockings filled with fruit, nuts, cookies, and maybe some new mittens and socks. Ah, the sweet smell of Cozonac baking!"

Cozonac Bread:

  • 1 cup milk, heated
  • 1 fresh yeast cake (or 1 yeast packet)
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 4 cups flour
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 3 eggs, beaten lightly
  • 3-4 drops yellow food coloring (optional)
Cheese Filling:
  • 1 cup cream cheese, softened
  • 1 tsp cornstarch
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla or lemon flavoring
Bread: Heat oven to 350° F. Heat the milk to lukewarm. In a separate bowl, crumble yeast. Add 2 teaspoons sugar and 2 tablespoons milk; set aside. Place the flour in a large mixing bowl. To the lukewarm milk, add 3 tablespoons sugar, salt, melted butter, lightly beaten eggs, and optional food coloring. Add yeast mixture. Beat all with rotary beater until thoroughly blended. Pour mixture over flour and work in, with a wooden spoon, until all flour has mixed well with milk mixture. Knead with hands for about 5 minutes or until dough will not stick to your hands. Cover with clean tea towel and place in warm spot. Allow dough to rise until double in size.

Punch down and knead again for 2 minutes. Let rise again. Place dough on an oiled work surface and roll out until it is a sheet about a finger's width thick. Spread Cheese Filling uniformly over the top, then roll dough up like a jelly roll. Grease a bread pan, place the roll inside, and allow it to rise to the top of the pan. Brush with a beaten egg and then bake at 350 until done. After 45 minutes, check for doneness. Makes 1 loaf.

Cheese Filling: Using a fork, mash and blend the cream cheese. Add cornstarch and egg yolks and mix well. Add sour cream, 1–2 tablespoons at a time. Work quickly and mix thoroughly. Add sugar and flavoring. Spread over the dough.

Tea Aemilius Ploiesti Branch Bucharest Stake Ploiesti, Romania

Recipes and experiences excerpted from Worldwide Christmas Cookbook by Deanna Buxton. Copyright 2009, Covenant. Available now.

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