Christmas dinners from around the world enjoyed on NI tables

A woman stands in front of a Christmas tree in a room decorated with Christmas lights
Image caption,Jossy Aji moved from the north of India to Northern Ireland and has been living in Londonderry since 2009

By Anna Maguire


While many people in Northern Ireland tuck into turkey with all the trimmings, or some variation, for their traditional Christmas dinner, others enjoy their own festive feasts.

From a biryani to a seaweed salad and a 12-course meal by candlelight, the food is as varied as the traditions.

For Jossy Aji, Christmas dinner is a smaller affair here than in her native India, but it is by no means small.

She and her family start the day with appam stew.

Made from fermented rice batter and cooked in coconut milk, it is “a main speciality of Christmas Day”, she said.

Jossy moved from the north of India to Northern Ireland, and has been based in Londonderry since 2009.

Three meals resting on a table
Image caption,Jossy and her family eat biryani with yoghurt salad and papads

She still follows the same Christmas traditions as her parents in Kerala, southern India, but with a few less dishes on 25 December.

They include fish curry, vegetable curry, a roast duck or chicken, fried meat, fruit salad, plum cake, ginger wine and rose cookies.

At the centre of it all is a biryani.

“That’s a spiced rice dish that you can mix with chicken, lamb, goat or beef,” said Jossy.

“It’s cooked with whole, aromatic spices and with basmati rice, and we garnish it with fried onions and cashew nuts.”

Hours in the making, the dish is layered, and coloured with saffron.

Christmas Eve cooking

On Christmas Eve, Juliana da Cruz, 40, sits down to eat with her family in Dungannon, County Tyrone.

She moved from East Timor with her husband and son nearly a decade ago.

A woman and man sit with their children, a boy and a girl, around a dinner table at Christmas time
Image caption,Juliana with her husband, Paulo, and their son and daughter, Pablo and Cataleya, in Dungannon

She starts cooking on Christmas Eve morning, serving up to seven dishes at about 21:00 GMT that night.

The centrepiece this year was fahi lalar – pork marinated in garlic, pepper, salt and paprika and cooked for around two hours at a moderate heat.

Accompaniments included a rice dish, like katupa or rice with bacalhau; fried noodles which Juliana calls “shaumi”; a salad called “budu”, containing dried seaweed sent from East Timor by her parents; egg pudding and chocolate cake.

“Some people order the cakes from me and I order the food from them, so we exchange,” she added.

A block of salt cod
Image caption,Salt cod known as bacalhau, which is popular in East Timor

Across the border in the Republic of Ireland, Iryna Mezenina and her family start their Christmas dinner when the first star appears in the sky on Christmas Eve.

They light candles, turn out the lights and eat kutia.

Iryna says this is the most important meal in a Christmas dinner for Ukrainian families like hers.

Based in Letterkenny, County Donegal, the 37 year old came to Ireland in March 2022 with her daughter, Marharyta, six, her mother, Olha, father, Andriy, and sister, Oksana.

A little girl pictured with her mother, aunt, grandmother, grandfather and Santa
Image caption,Right to left, Iryna, Santa, her daughter, Marharyta, mother, Olha, father, Andriy, and sister, Oksana

Her husband, Heorhii, 38, is still in Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv – something she hopes will have changed by this time next year.

But this Christmas Eve, for the second time, they ate together over a video call on 24 December.

Among the many things that have changed since Iryna and her husband last had Christmas dinner together in person is the date on which they celebrate.

Christmas day was marked in Ukraine on 7 January – with families eating their Christmas dinner the evening before.

But earlier this year the state holiday was moved to 25 December, in another move by Ukraine to distance itself from Russia.

This year, Iryna prepared 12 dishes. The number of dishes draws on the months of the year or the 12 Apostles, depending on who you ask, she says.

“It’s one of the oldest Christmas traditions in Ukraine that there should be 12 meals,” she said.

“It’s prepared without butter, milk, eggs, sour cream and meat.

“The main meal is kutia.”

Ukrainian traditional borsch
Image caption,There are many versions of borsch recipes

Iryna prepared it with boiled wheat and added poppy seeds, nuts and sugar.

She says some families add dried fruit – and it’s served cold.

“According to our tradition, we have to try all 12 dishes,” she added.

From kutia, they move to borsch, usually followed by varenyky (dumplings) and, in no particular order, a fish dish; holubtsi (cabbage rolls); deruny (potato pancakes); a compote called uzvar; kalach (a special Christmas bread); stewed mushrooms; stewed cabbage; pampushky, (Ukrainian doughnuts); and salad.

“We eat our dinner with lighted candles, because it’s a very old tradition that when you blow out the candles, if the smoke stays in the room everybody will be alive the next Christmas Eve,” she said.

“But if the smoke goes out of the room, someone will be ill.

“So we are trying to blow out the candles without the smoke escaping the room.”

A woman, man and little girl pose in front of a Christmas tree in a square decorated for Christmas
Image caption,Iryna Mezenina with her husband, Heorhii, and their daughter, Marharyta, in Kyiv in 2021

Asked if she has a message for her husband this Christmas, Iryna replies: “Stay safe.”

“Our reality is that any message could be our last, so we don’t wait for any special time to say I love you.”

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