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Your Christmas eve meal traditions

Just canvassing or rather looking to steal good ideas for starting a new Christmas eve meal tradition at our house. When I was growing up our Christmas eve meals tended to include several of cheese fondue or beef fondue, artichokes, something shrimp-based, lobster bisque and a wackload of appetizers depending on the number of attendees. My parents used the opportunity of moving to Canada (from the US) to create their own new thing and leave midnight mass, plum pudding, etc., behind so it was always a smaller and kind of hippy dippy affair. Plus, there was the added bonus of the smell of our neighbours trinidadian curry permeating everything (yum!).

A few years ago when chowlet #2's arrival was imminent we put our foot down and said Christmas eve and Christmas morning would be spent at our own house. Since then we have been adrift looking for new traditions.

There are two complicating factors however. The first is that my mom spends every other Christmas eve with us. While we would probably be happy with a Sushi, Korean, Thai bonanza, not so much for my mom. The second is that chowlet #1 and myself are gfree. Sigh.

Any ideas? Or better yet, do you have any traditions that you just love, love, love that you would be happy taking root in someone else's house?


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  1. You should do what you and your spouse love. That's the thing about starting a tradition--the world is your oyster right now. You can do what YOU want, making sure you graciously have sushi alternatives for your mom-visit years.

    I do the Seven Fishes (actually, it's usually more like 5) on Christmas Eve, but not just because it's traditional--it's because H and I really like it. I omit the stuff he won't eat (eels, salt cod), and go heavy on the stuff he likes (shrimp, mussels, clams).

    What do you love? What says "holiday eve" to you? do it!

    1 Reply
    1. re: pinehurst


      Are there foods you associate with when you first met? Your first Christmas together? Your first as a parent? A type of dining that feels special? What speaks to you?

      Our Christmas Eve dinners have been all about nibbles. We like to have a big fire in the fireplace. Christmas music playing, lights are soft.

      We usually splurge and get a *really* nice bottle of champagne. We have sparkling cider for the boy. We like to roasted shrimp cocktail, assorted cheese and pate, candied nuts, roasted chestnuts. Some time we do meat and cheese fondue.

      Afterwards we might watch a Christmas movie but the night always ends with a reading of the “Night before Christmas” and “A child’s Christmas in Wales” followed by putting out a treat for St Nick.

    2. I usually do a riff on Classic French bistro fare. I love a New York strip with a peppercorn cognac sauce, frites and a green salad. I end the meal with a creme caramel, creme brûlée or floating islands. It is not traditional but oh so good. I ramp it up by frying my potatoes in duck fat...I sometimes will start with seared fois gras on brioche with a sweet component(caramelized onions, fig jam etc)

      1 Reply
      1. Feast of 7 Fishes always. Various preparations using anchovy (pickled white or regular salted) mussels, littlenecks or quahogs (if in chowder), lobster, local bay scallops, shrimp, and a local white fish like cod, haddock, or striped bass. Sound like a ton of food, but we keep it to small tasting and tapas sized portions so as not to spoil the big day.

        1. A seven fishes type seafood soup with lots of veggies in a tomato based broth. Rather than wheat based bread you could go with some gluten free crispy crackers.

          1. Lobster bisque followed by Belgian endives vinaigrette with toasted walnuts & Roquefort. And Veuve Clicquot

            1. Six years ago we started our own XMas Eve traditions, partly because we no longer wanted to travel to the midwest to visit my in-laws (we go after Xmas) and partly because we moved into our own home and wanted to have our own traditions. My family is over an hour away and with 2 small kids, we didn't want to travel that far for an evening....so we started a Christmas Eve Open House at our place. We invite friends who might not be traveling for the holidays, friends who have three stops to make over the course of the evening...anyone who is around! We typically have it from 3-7, so that people with a dinner later can stop by and so that our young kids can get to bed at a reasonable time (who am I kidding? it's so we can get to bed at a reasonable time!).
              We have beer and wine and some scotch (thinking of doing something with eggnog this year) and about 10-12 different hot and cold appetizers. The adults all congregate in the kitchen and the kids have the run of the rest of the house.
              Good luck coming up with your own!!!!

                1. re: Uncle Bob

                  If we could afford it, for 20-30 people, I would go the oyster route, too!!!

                2. We have always had a very low key casual meal christmas eve and then a more formal "fancy" meal on christmas.
                  A few years back i started making favorites my mom and dad had from their family recipes.
                  Who knew a good waldorf salad could be so delicious?? I make my paternal grandmother's shrimp dip to serve with toast points, and usually a simple soup with cheesey toasts.

                  Flavors and meals that resonate with your own personal memories of the holiday can be the most significant.

                  1. We usually go out on Christmas Eve for a quiet dinner and cook a family meal on Christmas Day. I kind of forgot about the eve this year and by the time I called the restaurant we wanted to go to, they were booked up. So we're going out for Chinese at one of our favorite neighborhood places. Thankfully everyone is ok with this and are actually looking forward to dinner, so I'm kind of off the hook. Will remember to do this earlier next year though.

                    1. Christmas Eve, my parents would always have all of our family friends over for a huge pot of cioppino, and make a lasagna for the kids. Then after cleanup that night, we'd head over to my grandparents and the kids would sleep next to the Christmas tree.

                      1. My parents always had oyster stew. I tend to make posole, as it is a tradition here in NM. Some folks have tamales.

                        I first had the 7 fishes in NY on Christmas eve a few years ago, but fresh fish is hard to get here. I add raw oysters and/or shrimp cocktail as an homage to that.

                        1. Seven fishes here, too! Although with a twist. I make mine all in appetizers (crab cakes, shrimp spring rolls, fish taco cups, etc.). So we spend 3-4 hours grazing on appetizers and playing games, and then sit at the table for a bowl of french onion soup (a long story!). My niece is gluten-free, so everything is g/f (except the crouton on the soup, but I'll bet I can even find a decent g/f version of that this year, too!).

                          1. IMO, you don't *plan* a tradition, or adopt someone else's as your own. You do things with your friends and family, and some evolve into traditions because someone likes them, or because something unexpectedly entertaining happened. For example, my best friend is wealthy. I am not. Giving a gift to someone who can afford whatever she wants is challenging. One year I found an attractive semi-precious gemstone pendant at a jewelry show, and when I learned that it was coprolite - fossilized dinosaur dung - I knew that it would complement her quirky style. I presented it accompanied by a little flipbook that I made. Only on the last page did it reveal what the stone was. She read it, a big grin slowly spread across her face, and she exclaimed, "You gave me shit for Christmas!" It became a gift tradition for us.
                            I've received shellacked moose-dung earrings; she's gotten a paperweight containing an owl casting, etc. Eventually we ran out of options but it was fun while it lasted.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: greygarious

                              Indeed! We have evolved over the years.

                              From age 9-15 or so, my best friend and I were in charge of organzing the kids in some type of Christmas Eve skit for the parents to watch. We would act out The Night Before Christmas or have a mini recital with all the kids who played instruments and the other kids MCing or ringing jingle bells.

                              Eventually more children came along but there were less of them, so we would make sure there was a Christmas video for them to watch after dinner while all the middle school teenaged boys and girls would go play video games in the basement. The games were outdated so they had a great time playing the same ones year afer year.

                              Then the littlest girls were bigger but had nobody to really talk to so we gave them the task of doing a candy count guessing game while the adults chatted and the winner got to keep the candy.

                              This year those girls are in high school and one of the big kids will be bringing her own children. Things evolve...

                            2. We have appetizers and play board games. My mom always had a Christmas Eve party for her side of the family. French onion soup, cold meats and salads. She got tired of hosting many years ago and after she stopped, no one offered to take it on. So now my sister and I bring a variety of hot and cold appetizers to my mom's place, we play games and eat.

                              Invariably something happens during our version of Pictionary that makes my mom and I laugh until we cry (we play in teams at a big easel, so everyone can see how terrible you are).

                              1. Tamales, beans, rice, chips & guacamole.

                                1. We are doing the same, trying to start a tradition for our small family now that the grands have passed. We always had hot dogs since the kids couldn't wait to open presents and they were simple enough most could finish their meal in time for presents. A friend does spaghetti with her family. Glad I'm not the only one looking to start a new tradition and everyone's comments help us look beyond the usual.

                                  1. Some old friends of mine had, for years, the most distinctive Christmas Eve dinner tradition among any of my acquaintances:

                                    White Castles, followed by English Plum Pudding with hard sauce.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: jmckee

                                      A Christmas Eve with White Castles!!! If you have White Castles in your area, this would sound plain-jane and lousy. But I moved out of White Castle country many years ago, and the nostalgia and mythology of those sliders has just grown in my memory banks. Envious of old friends who live around the old stomping grounds and can still make a spontaneous White Castle run.
                                      So, your friends had a wonderful tradition in my opinion.
                                      You say "had..." as if these friends may have moved on to other "traditions."
                                      With so many suggestions on this thread, wouldn't it be a kick if the OP and family went with the White Castle idea? [But I read on down and it looks like they're heading for Mexican. A fine choice, I am sure.]

                                    2. Wow. Some really great ideas! I must have been living under a rock to have never heard of the feast of the seven fishes. We were totally going to give it a whirl appy style - just a collection of our favourite eats from various ages, stages and places: west coast smoked salmon, tuna sashimi or carpaccio, bacon wrapped scallops, ceviche, etc. Totally excited that we could rotate things in and out. Enter my mom. "Well, since you know the sight and smell of salmon and tuna make gag, there won't be any *that*." Me: "No, I only thought you had a bad salmon incident in the 70s and chose no to eat it and didn't like tuna salad." Mom: "Well, I will try and keep my stomach settled while you enjoy - there will be lobster chowder right?"

                                      Aaaaarrrggggghhh. I love my mom to bits and am chalking this up to resistance to change but she knows the chowlets and their Dad have lactose issues - a milk/cream based soup would not be terribly festive. Normally, our food challenges barely play into our day - its all part of the fun. This time? Not so much.

                                      Our solution? The oddly awesome Mexican restaurant for our neck of the woods. Everyone can choose their desired level of cheesiness and wheatiness. I will focus my efforts on the crepe bar that is on tap for Christmas morning breakfast - brown sugar apples, blueberries, lemon cashew cream, sweet potato almond butter sauce, etc.

                                      Now, next year when Mom is at my sisters? A gigantic sashimi platter of salmon and tuna, and nothing else :)

                                      1. when i was a kid, the christmas "feast" was reserved for christmas day. we had Mom's homemade beef vegetable soup on Christmas Eve, before church

                                        1. Our Christmas eve tradition was that we always had our big Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve.... Why? Well, nothing wrong with great left overs on Christmas Day, and it gave me all day long to play with the kids' new toys! I admit it. I'm sneaky! The kids are in their 40s now, but I do still like to have Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve. Makes Christmas day seem a lot more like Christmas! '-)

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: Caroline1

                                            I think over the years we have moved to the opposite side of the coin- that Christmas Eve is a very informal, cold cuts sandwiches affair- help yourself, no standing on any ceremony or elaborate plans for the meal. A catch-your-breath-and-relax kind of feel to it, because "tomorrow's gonna be a big day!" My parents focused on the Scandinavian fish and somewhat of a big deal on Christmas Eve, but their pattern did not follow us into going off on our own, new families etc.

                                            1. re: Caroline1

                                              Well, this was a VERY misleading answer! My kids have not stayed "Santa Clause Age" into their forties, and that's the age they were when I wanted to play with the toys too!

                                              My experience has been that Christmas "traditions" change with time, and in my lifetime I've enjoyed some rich and wonderful Christmas traditions. Here are some....

                                              When my first husband was stationed at Nellis Air Force Base, in Las Vegas, Nevada, for that entire four year period we had a “tradition” that we and his commanding officer and his wife would host a HUGE Christmas banquet at our house, I would do ALL of the cooking (looking back, I am amazed I had the stamina and the energy, not to mention the organization!) and besides our families, we hosted ALL of the single airmen who worked in Air Traffic Control and did not have the rank or pay level to go home for Christmas. Diane and Phil (CO and wife) would supply all of the wine and Ron and I would supply all of the food. The menu every one of those four consecutive years was:
                                              Oysters Rockefeller as the starter, four per person.
                                              The main courses were a 7 bone standing ribs of beef (USDA Prime dry aged) with Yorkshire pudding, a roast Christmas goose with chestnut/Grand Marnier stuffing and glaze, and a whole suckling pig roasted with green marbles in the eye sockets and served with a bright red apple in its mouth plus a red velvet ribbon around its neck with a sprig of holly and surrounded by sugar crystallized fresh fruit “sugar plums.” The accompaniments were my own sweet potato maple souffle with pecans (and NO marshmallow topping!), mashed potatoes, gravies and sauces to go with each main protein, fresh cranberry relish, corn pudding, garden peas, glazed carrots, and all sorts of pickled things like beets, figs, gherkins, and such. The dessert was always a “plum pudding” that looked like a plum pudding but the inside was a layered ice cream bombe with the layers forming a Christmas bell when the pudding was cut like a cake. It was always brought to the table aflame and with the lights out. Phil and Diane supplied a white wine, a great red wine, and champagne for dessert. And after dinner coffee, of course! With cordials of Danziger Goldwasser.

                                              The greatest joy of this wonderful to remember four year “tradition” is some of the great thank you letters that I got from the parents of the young GIs we hosted. One I especially remember was from a mother thanking me for the wonderful diversion we provided for her son because it was his very first Christmas away from home and she had been so worried he would be depressed. She said that instead, he had called her Christmas night and just “wouldn't shut up” talking about the incredible food and actually having had dinner with his commanding officer!” I still get goosebumps remembering that letter. In the forty five years since then that have brought two divorces and god knows how many moves, that letter has been lost. I regret that.

                                              Another fun “tradition” we had was when the kids were in fourth and fifth grades, I was remarried, and we had moved to El Paso, Texas. That would be around 1979. Every Christmas Eve, until they graduated from high school, come Christmas Eve, we would pick up two dozen pork tamales, and two dozen sweet tamales, make a few thermoses of hot chocolate, then pile in the car, Christmas Eve “dinner” all packed and warm, and drive around looking at all of the houses and churches that had true, old fashioned paper bag/sand/tea candle luminarias as their ONLY outside Christmas lights for Christmas Eve. It's an old Southwestern and Mexican tradition, and when done right, and when it is the only kind of decoration in an entire neighborhood, it can be simply breathtaking! When it happens to be a White Christmas, it is truly magical. I don't know if that tradition is still alive and well in any part of this country or Mexico today, but it is a special memory to have enjoyed that with my kids.

                                              And now to share a special Christmas memory from my childhood that taught me a great deal about Christmas and sharing.
                                              It was the second year of World War II, and rationing was taking the Merry out of Christmas BIG TIME! But my mother was super resourceful, and did shopping for rationed items in Mexico (3 miles away) so we had all of the things that people who thought Mexico was unthinkable as a food resource did without. BUT... live, fresh Christmas trees was another matter! And with gasoline rationing, there would be no driving up into the mountains and cutting our own. GREAT joy! About a week before Christmas, when I came home from school, there was a ten foot Christmas tree still tied and bundled on our front porch! Santa was coming after all! When I came home the next day, the front porch was empty. I figured I was about to be extended the privilege of setting the angel on its top. But when I went in the house, there was my mother with a huge basket full of branches of pepper trees from our yard, and she was trying desperately (and with little success) to arrange them in the Christmas tree stand to simulate a Christmas tree. If you've never seen a pepper tree, think weeping willow. Limp branches that couldn't support an ornament if you glued it on! “WHERE is our Christmas tree!” I demanded. Mom shrugged and gave me a crooked smile. “Your grandfather gave it to the church.” I couldn't believe my ears! I sulked for days. But on Christmas Eve, there was always a service at our church, carols and special Christmas music by the choir, paper horns filled with candies passed out to everyone. A true Christmas celebration. I didn't want to go because I was still sulking, selfish child that I was. But I went because I didn't have much choice. My grandfather was Chief Deacon! Oh, and I was in the choir. During the service, the minister announced to the congregation that the Christmas tree was a special gift to the congregation from my family because so few could have Christmas trees of their own due to the war. And after the service, tons of kids came up to me and thanked me. And when we went home that night for late Christmas Eve dinner and my mother turned on the lights on that sad little “Charlie Brown” Christmas tree, the Magic of Christmas just jumped up and down all through the house! Years later, the first time I saw “A Charlie Brown Christmas” on TV, that childhood memory haunted me and does to this very day.

                                              So long story not short, for me at least “Christmas traditions” are an ever changing thing... Merry Christmas, Everybody!!!! ,

                                            2. Unfortunately, nothing to recommend. My Mom and Dad settled on Christmas Eve church, followed by take-out Jake's Pizza. I know there is almost no such thing as *bad* pizza, but Jake's was pushing it.

                                              1. dad's extended family. always brisket/smoked turkey/etc. sides are standard.

                                                1. We always have Chinese take out at my nieces house. All the family gathers. Beautiul table setting. Hot Choclolate afterwards.Then we all take a drive through the old part of Sacramento where on a couple blocks almost every house is decked out in lights and Christmas scenes. It's quite awesome,and the kids love it.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: emglow101

                                                    Now that I think of it, we eventually switched from pizza to Chinese take-out. Big improvement!

                                                  2. We do Tex Mex at my MILs. There are all sorts of dishes there. She is inconsistent, so sometimes it's good, sometimes not.

                                                    1. Christmas Eve is typically appetizer type foods with the family. Christmas day is some sort of Mexican themed meal with just my wife, our son, and me. We are not Mexican, we just somehow fell into that tradition.

                                                      1. Our tradition is "Jewish Christmas Eve". We go with friends to our favorite Chinese restaurant in Chinatown, and then over to a local pub for a night cap before coming home and opening presents while sipping some egg nog.

                                                        3 Replies
                                                        1. re: mwk

                                                          Our Jewish December 25 has always included Chinese food, as it was the one option that was always open.

                                                          Today, one of my friend posted this photo on Facebook, taken at a Chinese Restaurant on the Connecticut shoreline.
                                                          EXCUSE Photo #2, I have no idea where it came from when copyingthe first from FB.

                                                          For the B family,Chinese on Dec 25 is even more appropriate as youngest daughter was born and adopted in Guanzho (Canton) 16+ years ago.

                                                          1. re: mwk

                                                            See, our Jewish Christmas Day includes having lunch at Nathan's in Coney Island and Chinese food for dinner.

                                                            So, for Christmas Eve for the past few years, we have had Italian food at home! Lasagna, lobster ravioli, meatballs, arancini, garlic bread. And then we drive around looking at Christmas lights.

                                                          2. Our tradition used to be a pot luck at a friend's, every Christmas Eve, then midnight mass.

                                                            Kids have grown up, now we do tamales etc. Mass, whatever. no set tradition any more. Its ok.

                                                            1. We like to have egg rolls. Just because we love them, and because making them is a family effort, not because we have any Chinese heritage whatsoever! We usually do some soup and a few other dishes as well.

                                                              This family tradition started by accident, and is well entrenched after 10 or 15 years. I am not able to spend Christmas with my kids this year, since I need to be with my mom, but last I heard, my son and his wife had come to borrow a fryer so they could make the Christmas Eve egg rolls! (maybe they will freeze a couple for me?)

                                                              1 Reply
                                                              1. re: DebinIndiana

                                                                If they know what's good for them, they will. But you might have to remind them....

                                                                Our relatively new Christmas eve tradition is to have cioppino and bread and finish the wrapping. But our New Years eve tradition back when the kids were still living with me, was to make pot stickers. And then to watch zombie movies.

                                                              2. Lobster tails and champagne (we'll throw in some oysters this year).

                                                                1. As children grew and family configurations and obligations changed, we had different Christmas Eve traditions but the one I remember most fondly was (with grown children in for the evening and presents being opened then) a dinner made entirely of hors d'oeuvre, lots of different kinds and all the favorites. We ate them all evening as we opened presents (and had a little something to drink). Then I would bring out a substantial soup like Cuban Black Bean, to provide ballast, and then cookies and coffee.

                                                                  1. We never really had a tradition. For many years, we did pizza. Then, it became random. This year, I cooked a center cut beef tenderloin which could become a good tradition. But, I've read about all these people doing a bunch of appetizers, etc. around the fire, and that sounds fabulous. Might just have to go that route!