10 delicious European Christmas food traditions

The holiday season is truly a time for the senses to thrive. Christmas decorations and twinkling lights illuminate people's homes and public squares; carolers take to the streets spreading yuletide cheer while shopping malls are filled with the sound of traditional Christmas tunes and their modern counterparts. In many ways, the sights and sounds of Christmastime help to make it the most wonderful time of the year. However, without the delectable cooking and baking traditions that are today synonymous with the holidays, you may be a less enthusiastic come December each year!
Luckily, wintertime cuisine has been a mainstay in European culture for hundreds of years, and travelling along its many historic waterways during the festive season means getting the opportunity to sample some of the mainstays. From the sweet yuletide confections of France to savoury Hungarian pizza, traditional European Christmas foods are as unique and diverse as the countries and traditions they come from. So, before you uncover the flavours that have long flourished along the Rhine, Danube and Rhône for yourself, join us here for a journey introducing you to the magic of Christmastime gastronomy with our list of the ten most delicious European Christmas food traditions. 

1. Bredele (Alsace)

If you're passing through the French city of Strasbourg around the Christmas holiday, you'll likely come across these delightful biscuits. Close to something like a tiny cake, the name Bredele comes from on old Germanic word meaning "Christmas cookie" and they have long been a favourite throughout France's Alsace region. In line with the generous spirit of Christmas, a popular Alsatian tradition is for each household to bake their own Bredeles and then share them with their neighbours.

2. Christstollen (Germany)

A popular 'Stollen' consisting of fruits, nuts and sweet icing, Christollen is synonymous with a German Christmas. Originating in Saxony in the Middle Ages, early Christollen was actually quite tasteless and hard. This was because the Advent season was also a time of religious fasting, sand as a result, bakers were forbidden to use butter. This changed in 1490, when, after decades of being asked by the Saxon elite, the Supreme Pontiff in Rome sent the now famous 'Butter-Letter' to the region allowing the use of butter during Advent. Today, Christollen is sweeter than ever and can be found throughout the whole of Germany, from large grocery chains to quaint Mom & Pop stalls at a local Christmas Market.

3. Töki Pompos (Hungary)

Also known as Langalló, Töki Pompos is a wintertime delicacy enjoyed throughout many parts of Eastern Europe. Often served during Christmastime alongside a warm cup of mulled wine, this Hungarian version of pizza is made atop of warm, fluffy foccacia-like dough—topped with cheeses, fatty meats and sour cream. In some parts of the country it's actually quite common to serve Töki Pompos for breakfast...not a bad way to start your day! 

4. Oliebollen (Netherlands)

Somewhere between a dumpling and a donut exists the oliebollen. Originally eaten by Germanic tribes during the Yule (between 26 December and 6 January), this sweet, deep-fried treat is now commonly served to friends and family on New Years Eve or by street vendors during the holidays leading up to the New Year. Often just a simple recipe of eggs, yeast, flour, baking powder and milk, oliebollen may also include raisins, candied fruit and zest. An apple version, called appelbeignet, is also a popular European dessert, and like the more common olliebollon, it is of course topped with powdered sugar.

5. Macaron d'Amiens (France)

Originating in the French town of Amiens in the 16th century, the Macaron d'Amiens has gained a reputation as a delectable take on a traditional macaron. While these confections also include almonds, sugar, vanilla and egg whites, they lack meringue which gives most macarons their distinct softness. Still, this version has become renowned throughout northern France, and are a noteworthy part of Amiens' renowned annual Christmas Market (which is also the largest in region!).

6. Germknödel (Bavaria, Austria)

A culinary delicacy found throughout Austria and the Bavarian region of Germany, Germknödel is served as both a dessert and a main course during the holiday season. This soft, doughy dish is filled with Powidl, a delectable plum jam that is flavoured wit a variety of aromatic spices. While a similar version, Dampfnudel, is fried, Germknödel is steamed before being topped with butter, sugar and poppy seeds.

7. Bobalki (Slovakia)

Delightfully simple, these Slovakian bread balls drizzled with honey and poppy seeds are part of a longstanding Slovak Christmas tradition. A common dish on the Velija, or Christmas Eve Holy Supper, Bobalki is often part of twelve meatless dishes that are served to represent and honour the twelve Apostles from Christian theology.

8. Vanillekipferl (Austria)

Originating from the historic city of Vienna, these European Christmas cookies can now be found in market stalls and bakeries throughout Europe. A treat that has historically been enjoyed during the Advent season, legend has it that these Viennese desserts are made in the shape of the Turkish crescent moon to symbolize the successful defense of the Austrian capital from the Ottoman Empire in 1683. 

9. Pretzels (France, Germany)

Whether they are covered in chocolate, cheese or classically sprinkled with rock salt, wandering through a European Christmas Market is just not the same without a hot pretzel in hand. While this tradition can be traced to Austria and Germany, pretzels are now ubiquitous with outdoor events globally. Looking for an authentic German pretzel? Make sure it's soft, salty and, of course, big!

10. Feuerzangenbowle (Germany, Austria)

With all these delicious examples of European Christmas food, we thought it right to share a yuletide beverage to end our list. Translating to "Fire-Tong Punch," Feuerzangenbowle is a specially prepared Punsch in which a rum-soaked sugarloaf is set ablaze atop a pot of aromatic mulled wine. The drink is then served in mugs, while the burner- which resembles a fondue set- is kept on to keep the concoction warm. A great way to stay warm through the winter months, a Feuerzangenbowle ceremony is very common around Christmas and New Years throughout Germany, Austria and other German-speaking regions in Central Europe.

Explore Europe's magnificent waterways

Has this article whet your appetite and fueled your wanderlust? Taking you to some of Europe's oldest and most renowned destinations as they're decked in festive glamour, an Emerald Cruises Christmas Markets River Cruise will fully immerse you in the sights, sounds and flavours of a European Christmas. 

Calling port at several bustling cities, medieval fortresses and quaint fairy tale villages, explore the magic of the holidays along some of the world's most inspiring and timeless waterways. Make your next Christmas extra-special on board your innovative Emerald Cruises Star-Ship, with a wealth of thoughtful inclusions, immersive experiences and, of course, traditional European cuisine. We look forward to welcoming you on board!