Christmas Eve meal ideas

‘Twas the night before Christmas

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After you’ve wrapped the last gift and before you put cookies out for Santa, there’s the Christmas Eve meal. Each family and culture has its own traditions surrounding what to eat, so get inspiration from around the world and start your own tradition.

In my Italian-American family, Christmas Eve dinner is always comprised of an array of seafood, hearkening back to the traditional Feast of the Seven Fishes. Other families make a meal similar to Thanksgiving, complete with a roasted turkey, while others yet put a baked country ham on the table. Some just go out for Chinese food. Whether you want to keep it light and simple or rich and lavish, enjoy Christmas Eve with your family with these meal ideas.


Since there’s a good chance you’ll still be running around with last minute Christmas preparations, don’t go nuts preparing an appetizer. Instead arrange a plate of cheese, crackers, charcuterie, roasted red peppers, artichoke hearts, fresh vegetables and whatever else you want. This way everyone can nibble as they work until it’s time for the main course. Alternately, start with your favorite soup, which can be made ahead and kept warm on the stove until everyone is ready to eat.


Your cultural heritage and current geography will to some extent determine what you serve as the main dish at Christmas Eve dinner. As mentioned, Italian families serve fish (often multiple kinds), including salt cod, fish balls, lobster, Dungeness crab (a favorite in the Northwest), mussels and more. In Russia, Greece and other Eastern Orthodox countries they celebrate with twelve meatless dishes to honor the apostles, serving everything from caviar and mushroom soup to latkes and lobster. In the American South ham is a popular Christmas dish, while beef tenderloin is an elegant main that’s easy to cook.


Since you’ll likely be overindulging on Christmas, keep the sides light and healthy. Sautéed spinach, roasted root vegetables and Brussels sprouts, baked potatoes, simple salad — whatever is a favorite in your family. Sweet potatoes on their own are healthy and don’t need to be topped with loads of butter or marshmallows. In my family we tend to keep it simple, with just some steamed green beans and new potatoes and a green salad to accompany our seafood feast.


Tis the season for Christmas cookies, so why not put out a plate and some glasses of milk and do like Santa? For something a little more festive and elaborate, you may want to try your hand at a fruitcake, a traditional Christmas stollen, or a Buche de Noel (a French Yule log cake). At home we usually just put out a few pints of ice cream and call it a day!

What Christmas Eve food traditions do you have in your family? Share in the comments below!

More Christmas Eve meal inspiration

The perfect Christmas Eve dinner menu
The Feast of the Seven Fishes made easy
Italian Christmas Eve recipes

Katherine Martinelli is an internationally published food and travel writer and photographer. In addition to writing for Fabulous Foods, Katherine also contributes to various sections of SheKnows She recently released her first cookbook, Puff Pastry at Brunch: 10 Sweet and Savory Recipes to Start Your Morning (Hang Time Press, 2012). Katherine writes about her adventures in food at