Food Traditions for Christmas and New Year

Written by Karina N. Almanza, CSUN Dietetic Intern

Los Angeles is a beautiful melting pot of different cultures, upbringings, beliefs and backgrounds. At CSUN, we take great pride in the diversity of cultures within our community. While there are several benefits to having many different cultures live within one community, the most delicious benefit is the variety of foods available in Los Angeles as a result of so many cultures being homed in one area. To better appreciate the diversity of cultures, I wanted to take you on a trip to different regions around world to see what foods are traditionally served during the holiday seasons.

Japan – Kentucky for Christmas! It’s Finger Lickin’ Good

Kentucky Fried Chicken, otherwise known as KFC, is not only located internationally but is a Christmas tradition in Japan. Beginning as a marketing campaign in 1974, KFC became a tradition to order for the holiday season and is usually accompanied with cake and champagne. KFC is embedded so much so in the culture of Japan that in Tokyo, there is a three-story KFC restaurant, where one of the floors is a bar! Outside of the tradition of KFC for Christmas, a soba noodle soup called, Toshikoshi Soba, is slurped in proudly for New Year’s. It has been said that the longer the soba noodle, the more longevity and prosperity will be promoted throughout the new year. See recipe below if you want to try the noodles at home!

Spain – 12 Grapes for a Grape Year

If only Cinderella had known about this tradition that takes place before the clock strikes midnight. In Spain, it is a holiday tradition to have 12 grapes, representing all 12 months of the new year, to ensure good luck! Dating back to 1895, vine growers in Alicante, Spain wanted to offload mass quantities of grapes that had been grown for the season. Starting as a marketing plan, the vine growers promoted that the consumption of 12 grapes on new year’s eve, as soon as the clock strikes twelve, ensures good luck for the new year. The tradition is now practiced in Spain and Latin American countries, as well as hispanic communities in the U.S.

Sicily and Italy- When Coal Becomes a Goal

In several countries there are concepts of being punished or rewarded for being naughty or nice for the holidays. One of the most told stories and traditions is the placement of coal in stockings of children that have misbehaved or have classified as “naughty.” But did you know that in Sicily and Italy, the coal that is placed in these stockings are actually coal candy? Although I personally have never tried them, I’ve read that this coal candy has the perfect texture of crumbling in your mouth with a delicious balance of sweet and sugary. Most importantly, this candy has the physical appearance of burnt coal that will leave your loved ones feeling deep regret for all the havoc and naughty behavior they’ve caused you all year.

Oaxaca, Mexico – A Feliz and Radishing Navidad

The city of Oaxaca is located near the southern area of Mexico and is generally known for its colonial buildings. Starting on December 23, 1897, Oaxaca holds the annual tradition called, “Night of the Radishes Festival,” where the community of Oaxaca comes together to carve and assemble a variety of radishes into a creative display, attracting over 100 contestants and thousands of visitors. Radishes tend to wilt quickly after being harvested and the availability to see these radishes is limited, so visitors sometimes wait in hour-long lines to see them.

Although there were some traditions that were highlighted in this article, don’t disregard other traditions from other cultures! In France, half of the oysters produced annually are consumed between Christmas and New Years. In the U.S., there is a “Christmas Pickle” tradition, where the house and Christmas tree are decorated with pickle ornaments. In Britain, a coin for good luck is added into a Christmas holiday pudding. South Korea consumes a sliced rice cake soup called Tteokguk for Lunar New Year. During this holiday season, celebrate the holidays with your family, taking great pride in not only your cultural traditions but the traditions that are unique to your families. It’s never too late to start a new tradition!

New Year’s Soba (recipe)
Toshikoshi Soba



  • 1.5L bonito or kombu kelp dashi stock
  • 200ml soy sauce
  • 100ml mirin
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 300ml tsuyu (optional)


  • 200g soba buckwheat noodles
  • 100g spring onions
  • 20g tempura flakes
  • 150g kamaboko fish cake (optional)


  1. In a large pan, add your dashi (fish) stock. Next, add the mirin (rice wine) and simmer gently for a few minutes. Now add the sugar and let it dissolve before adding the soy sauce. This makes the broth for your soba noodles.
  2. In a separate pan bring 1L of water to a boil. Add the soba noodles, stir them slightly to make sure they’re all spread out around the pot. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for around 8 minutes. Cooking times may vary depending on your noodles, so check the instructions on the packet.
  3. Drain the noodles and rinse them in cold water, gently rubbing the noodles to remove any excess starch on the surface. Next, thinly slice the spring onions and any other garnishes. Tip from Karina: Add some veggies like Chinese broccoli, alfalfa sprouts, kale and green beans to sneak in some veggies into this delicious soup!
  4. Gently re-heat the stock and pour into bowls, then add the noodles and garnish with your spring onions and tempura flakes.

Dining on CSUN Campus

Explore different traditions and foods around the world by checking out the on campus dining hall, Geronimo’s, on Wednesday nights, when international meals are celebrated. In previous semesters, dishes from the following regions were served: Jamaica, Thailand, Guadalajara, Italy, France, Puerto Rico, Middle East, South America, Canada, Ireland, Germany, Chile, Argentina, China, Switzerland, Greece, Turkey, Poland, Lebanon, Creole, and Cuba. Visit CSUN Dining to see the upcoming International Flavors menu at Geronimo’s, open to students, staff, and faculty.


One thought on “Food Traditions for Christmas and New Year

  1. Last Minute Holidays

    Traditionally, the foods are invariably those that you’d be harvesting at that time of the year. Or, it would be a food item from dried and cured veggies or meats that you can cook. A little amazed at the naivete of the Japanese and the marketing skills of the chaps at KFC…imagine ingraining fast food from one country into the cultural consciousness of another nation.

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