As the liturgical season of Advent comes to a close, here are three different ways people around the world celebrate the season — with food.
When immigrants from Italy made their way to the United States in the early 20th century, they brought with them traditional foods and customs surrounding the holidays.
They also invented a new one: the Feast of the Seven Fishes.
The Italian-American Christmas Eve tradition is believed to have originated with immigrants from southern Italy, who missed the abundant seafood of the area.
Additionally, at the time, it was a Catholic practice to abstain from meat in the lead-up to holy days, including Christmas Eve. In southern Italy, that meant an elaborate fish dinner, as National Geographic noted.
As these immigrants established themselves in the United States, the seafood dinners of Christmas Eve eventually evolved into the “Feast of the Seven Fishes.”
“Seven” was likely chosen due to its significance in the Bible, said National Geographic.
The custom of eating fish on Christmas Eve also continued as a way to maintain a connection with Italy and to honor ancestors, said the publication.
Today, many Italian-American families have their own spins on the Feast of the Seven Fishes, which often includes Italian fusion cuisine in addition to traditional dishes.
In the Philippines and in areas with a large Filipino population, the days leading up to Christmas consist of a special pre-dawn celebration.
This tradition is called Simbang Gabi, which translates to “Church in the Evening,” he said.
Patalinghug is a priest of the Voluntas Dei (The Will of God) Institute and is based in Baltimore, Maryland.
In addition to his priestly ministry, Patalinghug is the author of the book, “Dining with the Saints: The Sinner’s Guide to a Righteous Feast.”
He is founder of the international food and faith movement called Plating Grace and is host of “Savoring our Faith,” a food and faith show on the Catholic TV network EWTN.
“Technically it’s a Mass in the early morning when it’s still dark,” he said. The Masses are celebrated shortly before dawn.
The point of these Masses is to “gather and pray in hopeful expectation of Christ — who is the light that pierces the darkness.”
“It’s also a time for people to gather and celebrate as a community, generally with traditional foods that give warmth and comfort,” Patalinghug said.
One popular dish for Simbang Gabi is arroz caldo — which Patalinghug described as “a warm savory porridge of rice and chicken with bold aromatics.”
Perhaps the most unusual and unexpected Advent and Christmas food tradition is the Japanese custom of eating KFC during the holiday.
While the Christian population of Japan is small — only about 1% of the country identifies as Christian — Japan began widely observing Christmas as a “seasonal event” in the late 1960s, says the KFC website.
“Initially, the celebrations were just for entertaining kids,” said KFC.
KFC came to Japan in the 1970s, and began its “KFC Christmas” campaign in 1974.
That campaign featured a promotion in which a bucket of KFC fried chicken was sold with a bottle of wine, “suggesting it be used for a Christmas party that wasn’t just for kids, but for grownups, too.”
“The original idea for the campaign came when a foreign customer who visited KFC in Tokyo on Christmas Day said, ‘I can’t get turkey in Japan, so I have no choice but to celebrate Christmas with Kentucky Fried Chicken,’” said KFC’s website.
The first Christmas campaign came with the tagline “Kentucky for Christmas,” and it was a hit, said the company.
Now, Japanese KFC locations have statues of Colonel Sanders dressed as Santa Claus — and they take pre-orders and reservations for Christmas dinner “as early as late October,” said KFC’s website.
“While the design of the bucket and the sides may change each year, KFC’s famous fried chicken stays at the center of the party bucket, and the Christmas holiday in Japan,” said KFC.
“Kentucky for Christmas is a Japanese tradition that’s here to stay.”