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  • Writer's pictureChristine Dorman

Festive Food Suggestions for Celtic Christmas / Holiday Meals

Updated: Dec 3, 2023

For this year's holiday meal, why not add a new tradition? Sprinkle the meal with traditional Celtic foods.
For this year's holiday meal, why not add a new tradition? Sprinkle the meal with traditional Celtic foods.

Happy holiday season! Whether you celebrate Christmas, Channukah, the Winter Solstice, or just enjoy looking at the lights and decorations, it’s a festive time of year. It’s also a time for getting together with family and friends to share a great meal (or three). And it’s time to engage in holiday traditions. But, this year, why not start a new family tradition by honoring your Celtic roots? Below are traditional dishes for Christmas from Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.

Of course, you don’t have to be Celtic to add these dishes to your holiday menu. And if you do have Celtic ancestry, there is nothing that says you can’t borrow some ideas from your other Celtic cousins. So, sit back and check out the dishes and recipe links below for a Celtic Christmas (or winter holiday).

Traditional Irish Dishes

Let’s start with dessert, specifically cake, more specifically fruitcake. All right, Americans, I know the brick-like fruitcake that everyone re-gifts to the next relative / friend is a running Christmas joke in the U.S. But maybe people in the U.S. need to learn from the Irish how to make a decent Christmas cake. And it needs to be made early. In fact, in Ireland, Christmas cakes (iced fruitcakes) start being made in October. Then they are fed with whisky (or, sometimes, brandy) until the Big Day arrives. The Irish enjoy their Christmas cakes and, if you’d like to make a proper one, check out this authentic recipe from The Irish Examiner.

Stand with Ukraine and against tyranny.
Stand with Ukraine and against tyranny.

But there’s another important Christmas dessert that is the crowning glory of any Irish Christmas celebration: Christmas Pudding. Don’t be misled, Americans. This dessert is not what people in the U.S. think of as “pudding.” It is a bit more like cake, but dense and rich, filled with fruit and nuts, and laced with booze. It’s served hot (sometimes set on fire like a Baked Alaska) and served with a sauce or a custard. For a traditional Christmas Pudding recipe, click here.

All right, admittedly, we can’t—or rather, shouldn’t—just eat desserts, even if it is a holiday. So, what’s for dinner? Turkey has caught on in contemporary Ireland, but the more traditional entrée is goose. It is available in the U.S. and worth trying as a way to spruce up your holiday meal. Just be sure you have a clue how to render out the fat. Goose has a lot of it. I mean a lot. It’s lovely to save and use for cooking other things in later, but it is essential to get it out of the bird or your guests will get gobs of it when they bite into the meat. That won’t lead to holiday joy. Click here to read an article from Spruce Eats on cooking a goose properly.

An alternative to the poultry is beef. A traditional Irish Christmas entrée is spiced beef. The meat is seasoned with autumn spices, such as allspice, clove, and ginger. Basting it with Guinness enhances the flavor.

Whether you go with poultry or beef, any good holiday meal needs sides. In Ireland, it’s plenty of veggies. Carrots, celery, turnips, onions, whatever you like. There is one absolute must for any good Irish meal. If you have Irish blood in you, you’ll know what it is: potatoes. Roast them, mash them, throw them in which other veggies. It doesn’t matter how you make them. Just don’t omit them. Two beloved Irish potato dishes are champ and colcannon. Champ is a delightful mixture of mashed potatoes, green onions, and butter. Here’s a recipe for it. Colcannon essentially is champ with cabbage mixed in. Click here for a colcannon recipe.

Traditional Scottish Dishes

Infuse Scottish culture into your holiday by having salmon for breakfast, as an appetizer, or even as the entree.
Infuse Scottish culture into your holiday by having salmon for breakfast, as an appetizer, or even as the entree.

It’s a bit difficult to talk about Scottish Christmas food and traditions. Sadly, the celebration of Christmas was banned in Scotland for about 400 years. It didn’t become a public holiday until the 1950s. The big celebration for Scots was (and still is) Hogmanay, the New Year. Click here to read my post on Hogmanay foods and traditions (such as First Footing). Nevertheless, you can add a Scottish touch to your holiday meal by including some of Scotland’s best traditional foods.

No, I’m not going to suggest you eat haggis for Christmas (although you might consider trying it another time). But here are a few suggestions that might be less challenging to the non-Scottish natives. At some point during the day—at breakfast or lunch—have some salmon, preferably Scottish if you can get it. Enjoy it with some cream cheese and another Scottish dish, oatcakes. Click here for the oatcakes recipe. A great Scottish side dish to add to your main meal is clapshot. I realize the name is not exactly inviting, but it’s better than its name. Clapshot is a mixture of potatoes and turnips with onions, chives, and nutmeg. Click here for the recipe.

Of course, don’t skip dessert. Clootie Dumpling is a beloved Scottish dessert. Similar to Christmas pudding, Clootie is steamed, and chockful of apples, raisins, and autumn spices. Usually, it’s served hot accompanied by cream or custard. The one drawback of clootie dumpling is that inexperienced cooks might find it a bit challenging to make. Check out the recipe here and see what you think. If you’d like to make a quick and easy dessert, I recommend cranachan. This is a delicious parfait-like dessert layered with raspberries, oats, honey, cream, and whisky. Click here for a recipe from Spruce Eats.

Homemade shortbread would be an excellent companion to the cranachan or just a luscious treat in itself. This wonderful buttery classic, in its truest form, has three ingredients: butter, sugar, and flour. I looked online for a simple recipe to refer you to and was astounded at how many ways people can complicate shortbread. So, I’ve decided to share with you my mother’s recipe.

Show your family you love them by making Scottish shortbread for their holiday snack attacks.
Show your family you love them by making Scottish shortbread for their holiday snack attacks.

All I can say about mother’s shortbread is that her Scottish mother-in-law said it was the best shortbread she’d ever eaten. This is notable because my father’s mother was not generally into complimenting my mother. My grandmother kept trying to get Mom to tell her what she did to make it so good. My mother delighted in keeping that secret, at least from my grandmother. But I’ll tell you. She added vanilla.

My Mother’s Shortbread

1. Cream together ½ cup of sugar with 1 cup softened butter. (Note: use real BUTTER. I mean it.)

2. Add ½ tsp. vanilla to the creamed mixture. (I usually add a whole teaspoon. I like vanilla.)

3. Using a wooden spoon, work into the mixture 2 cups of A. P. flour until it’s incorporated.

4. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead in another ½ cup of A. P. flour.

5. Roll dough into a log.

6. Chill the dough for an hour or two.

7. Preheat oven to 350-degrees Fahrenheit.

8. Grease 5 pie tins (9” round).

9. Cut the dough log into 5 slices and place each slice into a pie tin. Using the palm of your hand, press the dough into a round of about ½ inch thick.

10) Prick each round all over with the tines of a fork and score the rounds into 8 slices. *Score. Don’t cut all the way through the dough.

11) Bake the rounds in the 350-degree oven for approximately 12 minutes. Watch the shortbread closely toward the end of the baking time. When the shortbread is done, it should be a pale brown in the center and a deeper brown around the edges.

12) Remove from the oven and let cool slightly. Then, while the dough is still warm, cut the shortbread into slices. If you wait until it cools all the way, the cookies will break. Enjoy!

Traditional Welsh Christmas Food

Add a taste of Wales to your holiday meal by serving the Welsh national vegetable, leeks.
Add a taste of Wales to your holiday meal by serving the Welsh national vegetable, leeks.

A Welsh Christmas dinner bears a distinct resemblance to an Irish one. The main entrée, traditionally, is generally goose, although turkey’s popularity has been increasing in recent years. Another option for the main course is lamb. Welsh lamb is renowned as tender and sweet, and there is a variety of ways to serve it. Two possibilities are herb-roasted lamb and crown roast of lamb. No matter which entree you choose. Veggies are a natural side dish, but be sure to include the national vegetable, leeks.

Christmas sweets include loaf cakes (aka fruitcakes) and plum pudding (the same as the Irish Christmas pudding but with plums as the predominant fruit. Click here for a plum pudding recipe. The people of Montgomeryshire, Wales, traditionally used to have gooseblood tart at Christmas, but they seem to be the only Welsh people who enjoyed that delicacy.

To augment your Welsh holiday, you could include during the day a couple of beloved national dishes not specifically associated with the holidays. A great Christmas breakfast could include Glamorgan sausages. These meatless sausages are a combination of cheese and leeks that are rolled, breaded, and fried. Also, at breakfast or at teatime, be sure to include Wales’ famous bread, Bara Brith. It’s filled with fruit and spices. Finally, at teatime, after dinner, or just anytime, there is pice ear y maen. These small sugar-topped cakes can be served hot or cold.

I hope these suggestions help add a little sparkle to your holiday celebrations. Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed the post. Please LIKE and SHARE. To SUBSCRIBE for FREE, just click on the “Sign Up” button in the upper right of the page.

Slan go foil!

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