What Do Americans Eat for Christmas Dinner?

by Ella

For many Americans, Christmas dinner is one of the most anticipated and cherished meals of the year. It’s a time to gather with family and friends, feast on favorite foods, and uphold time-honored traditions. While Christmas dinner menus vary across the country, there are some dishes that are staples on most holiday tables.

The Main Event: Turkey, Ham or Roast Beef

The centerpiece of most Christmas meals is a large roasted meat. Turkey is by far the most common – according to the National Turkey Federation, 88% of Americans eat turkey on Christmas Day, to the tune of 46 million birds consumed each holiday season! A roasted turkey can feed a crowd, and it has become the quintessential Christmas protein.


Beyond turkey, ham is another extremely popular Christmas entree. Glazed with honey, studded with cloves, and often decorated with a pineapple slice or maraschino cherries, a baked ham is the perfect hearty and flavorful meal. Roast beef also makes frequent appearances – prime rib roasts and beef tenderloins are elegant cuts that can impress holiday guests.


Side Dishes and Accoutrements

No Christmas dinner is complete without a plethora of side dishes and savory accoutrements. Americans tend to prepare a variety of dishes to accompany the main course. Classic pairings include mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, stuffing or dressing, green bean casserole, glazed carrots, warm rolls, and cranberry sauce.


Mashed potatoes – smooth, creamy and often topped with gravy – are a staple that provides comfort and filler. Sweet potatoes, typically baked with brown sugar, butter and marshmallows on top, add a touch of decadence. Stuffing or dressing brings savory, herb-infused bread crumbs to soak up juices and gravy. The crunchy-yet-creamy combination of green beans, cream of mushroom soup and fried onions makes green bean casserole a staple at many holiday tables. Buttery glazed carrots lend a pop of color. Homemade rolls or warm bakery bread are ideal for slicing and dipping. And the bright tartness of cranberry sauce balances the other flavors.


Other classic side dishes include roasted vegetables like Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower or asparagus. There may be a salad of greens, pasta salad, or creamy coleslaw to start the meal. Scalloped or au gratin potatoes are beloved by many, as are loaded mashed potatoes with bacon, cheese and sour cream. Whatever combination of sides are served, they add delicious variety and complement the main course.

Desserts Galore

Americans have quite the sweet tooth, so Christmas dinner would not be complete without dessert! There are many beloved sweets associated with the holidays, from fruited cakes to chocolate confections.

Some of the most popular Christmas desserts include:

Pumpkin pie – Pumpkin pie is considered by many to be essential after a Turkey dinner. Flaky crust with a smooth, spiced pumpkin filling makes this a fall and winter treat. It’s often served with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Apple pie – Juicy sliced apples baked into a buttery, flaky crust is another quintessential American dessert, perfect for the holidays. Cinnamon, nutmeg and brown sugar season the apples for a comforting flavor.

Pecan pie – There’s something about the rich sweetness of pecan pie that just says “holiday indulgence.” Pecans and corn syrup or molasses fill a pie shell for a sticky, chewy treat.

Gingerbread – Spicy, molasses-flavored gingerbread is a hallmark Christmas dessert. It can be a cake, cookies or even a gingerbread house decorated with icing and candy.

Fudge – Smooth, creamy chocolate fudge is easy to make, gift-worthy and perfect with a cup of hot cocoa after a big dinner. Adaptations like peanut butter fudge or peppermint fudge add variety.

Christmas cookies – Americans bake up a storm of Christmas cookies like snickerdoodles, sugar cookies, gingerbread men, thumbprint cookies, snowball cookies and more. Exchanging cookie tins and platters is a tradition for many families.

Fruitcake – While often maligned, traditional fruitcake studded with candied fruits and nuts does have its fans. Its richness pairs nicely with coffee or tea.

Eggnog – Spiked with rum or bourbon and topped with nutmeg, eggnog is a Christmas beverage mainstay. It can also be turned into a decadent custard-like pie or served as a dessert soup.

The possibilities are endless when it comes to Christmas dessert spreads. Mini desserts like tarts, truffles and macarons allow for a tasting and variety. Of course, a tower of homemade cookies or a Yule log cake make quite the statement on a dessert table!

Christmas Dinner Traditions

In addition to iconic food and desserts, there are other traditions that surround Christmas dinner in America. Many families adhere to rituals that enhance the meaning and joy of this special meal.

Christmas crackers – Tableside whimsical tubes filled with small toys, jokes and paper crowns are a fun British tradition adopted by some American families. Everyone dons a paper crown from their cracker before dinner.

Reading Christmas cards – Some families will read aloud sentimental Christmas cards received from friends and relatives before dinner as a way to connect with loved ones from afar.

Saying grace – Offering gratitude before the meal through a prayer, blessing or moment of silence is common.

Toasting with champagne – A fancy toast with champagne or sparkling cider marks the special occasion.

Lighting the pudding – In the Victorian era, setting a plum pudding ablaze with brandy was quite the spectacle. While less common now, some families still light the Christmas pudding before serving.

Caroling around the piano – Carols and Christmas songs may be sung before or after dinner, often with piano accompaniment.

Leaving Santa a plate – Kids lay out milk and cookies or treats for Santa to enjoy after his gift deliveries. Carrots for the reindeer are left too.

Reading the Night Before Christmas – Reading the classic 1823 Clement Clark Moore poem is a tradition for many households.

Opening one gift – Families may allow each person to open a single gift on Christmas Eve or before dinner, building anticipation for the full gift exchange later.

10 popular Christmas dishes in America

1. Prime rib

2. The Christmas Turkey

3. Stuffing

4. Cranberry sauce

5. Mashed potatoes

6. Christmas Cornbread

7. Biscuits

8. Sweet potato casserole

9. Gingerbread Christmas cookies

10. Apple pie


With meaningful traditions, festive decor and dishes carefully prepared, Christmas dinner in America is so much more than just a meal. The food is simply a medium through which family bonds are strengthened, faith is expressed and lasting memories are formed. For this, it remains a cornerstone of the American holiday tradition.



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