What British People Eat for Christmas

Before my first holiday trip to London, my family asked what British people eat for Christmas. I arrived in the beginning of January the first time I lived in London and didn’t stay an entire calendar year. So, I wasn’t actually sure how to answer everyone.

Would it be just like how it was depicted in ‘A Christmas Carol’? Do they really eat pheasant or goose now? Was that just the Victorian era or true English tradition?


I relied heavily on my English husband (London born) for ideas to share with you, as well as a little research. After living here four years, what British people eat for Christmas still has me curious. I enjoy some of their holiday foods and drinks. Others- not so much!

While no person’s Christmas dinner plate is ever the same, there are some general items that you see at a British holiday meal.

And of course, there’s an entire experience just in London Pubs at Christmas that you’ll want to know too…

If you’re British, be sure to add your additions and thoughts to what British people eat for Christmas in the comments below or on the YouTube videos. American friends, what other things about living in London as an American expat would you like to know?

If you’re visiting London for the holidays, the blog has tons of things to do for Christmas. There is also a very popular feature about Christmas Differences Between the UK and USA. Be sure to subscribe to the blog’s newsletter so you don’t miss any fun events in London or expat advice too!

What’s on your Christmas dinner plate this year? Do you eat a meal at home or book a table at a restaurant? Do you have the same selection annually or does it depend on how your family is traveling?

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  1. You’re husband is being lazy in educating you.
    Cranberries are not usually in mince pies… they are a sweet mince made traditionally with apples, currents and raisins with spices, sugar and fat. Historically they included meat mince, and this was a way of preserving the meat in winter. They’re now meat free you might like to know!
    Borough market (pronounced “bur-ra” market, not “Borrow” – don’t worry, most Americans do this!) is a great foody spot. It was better ten-twenty years ago when it was more of a market.
    Yorkshire is pronounced “York-Shear” or “York-Shuh” dependent on location.

    Turkey is rather a modern addition, and cranberry sauce even more so. The UK are so great at adopting new foods as part of tradition.
    Game is definitely featured in older more traditional families. Mine included. It’s still hunting season, so partridge, pheasant, duck are all possible as traditional centrepieces. Three bird roasts are becoming more popular. Some families like to have beef wellington for Christmas. A good gravy.
    Stuffing is a huge thing on Christmas.

    Crackers contain a toy, a paper “crown” hat (my family it was compulsory to wear it throughout Christmas Lunch – which is when Christmas dinner is served) and most importantly a very bad “joke” to share with people at the table. Each person pulls an end, and a “bang” is made from a small gunpowder ‘firework’ inside. One person gets the larger side with the contents inside, and thus “wins” the prize.

    Christmas pudding – a suet pudding that’s boiled and historically contained a lucky sixpence. This is set alight at the table by pouring burning brandy on the top.

    There’s so much that’s missed in this, it’s a shame.

    1. Rude. Maybe her husband’s depiction is how he or his family celebrated? You are a sniveling troll, who perhaps needs to get a hobby and stop trying to make others feel inferior.

  2. I , too, was surprised that you didn’t mention Christmas pudding. When I was growing up , there were small silver charms and silver coins hidden in the pudding. There was always somebody round the table who pretended they had swallowed a coin. The pudding is served with brandy sauce or brandy butter,
    Custard , cream or a combination of these. You will often see it represented on Christmas cards, Christmas jumpers or hats. Perhaps you have it in America and that’s why you didn’t mention it.

  3. Love Yorkshire pudding, but not on Christmas Day. Unless roast beef is on the menu. Roast potatoes a must and in my family braised red cabbage. What about Christmas cake, and a glazed ham to eat cold with turkey on Boxing Day?

  4. I’ve never heard anyone have pheasant for Christmas Day lunch, and goos, though traditional, is rarely eaten now. Turkey is the usual meat, though we often had roast beef. Roast potatoes are a must too. The stuffing you showed wasn’t British stuffing, its much more dense and solid, and often has forced meat (like sausage meat) in it too. Yorkshire pudding doesn’t go with turkey, we only have them when eating roast beef. Lots of people skip the sprouts nowadays too.

    Christmas pudding isn’t mentioned in your video, we always have custard with ours, with the options of brandy cream and clotted cream fir those who don’t want custard. Trifle is more for eating during a family party over Christmas, i would say. Mince pies are for eating any time over the Christmas period, and i suppose could be eaten later on Christmas Day with a cup of tea, but not for Christmas lunch.

    1. Thank you for adding such an extensive comment. Seems like with any culture, there could be variations on meals. It’s always great to learn how different people within a population are both the same and different.

    2. Do you have a recipe for the traditional Christmas pudding? My grandmother never wrote down her recipes. Born in 1901-1996

  5. Though every family has their own traditions, this is what we have each year for christmas dinner:
    Roast turkey, sage and onion stuffing, bread sauce, gravy, roast potatoes, brussles sprouts, carrots,
    Christmas pudding/ mince pies (which do not include Cranberry).
    In addition we have very snacks and sides guests might bring along (sausage rolls, fried leek, etc)

    Trifle is not something we would eat on christmas day but probably at some point between christmas and nye.
    Though yorkshire puddings are very British (and very tasty) they are not something our family would eat for christmas dinner.

  6. My husband and children are Scottish, and this will be their eleventh year here in the U.S. Because they gave up so much of their culture to emigrate, I have worked hard to learn how to cook and bake Scottish and British foods, and keep some traditions, including haggis. Sometimes we have had haggis for Christmas, but our children are no longer fond of it, so we make it now (from scratch) just for Burns Night, and sometimes for my husband’s birthday. It takes us two days to make it. Our main dish for Christmas is different each year. Sometimes we have even had lamb, which of course is nothing special in Scotland so you wouldn’t have it for Christmas dinner, but here it is expensive so we only get it as a treat. Lamb is about as expensive here as your beef is there, but here beef is cheap. We’ve also had venison, roast beef, and even once… goat (it doesn’t sound good but it was actually wonderful! We enjoyed that. It’s a shame my husband doesn’t eat poultry, or we would also sometimes have goose or turkey.

    I make Christmas pudding every year, and always source dried currants for it along with other things, but I have not yet made it weeks before hand, steamed it in a cloth and hung it up, and I would like to do that. My Australian neighbor does it, and showed me how to last year. Mine is still steamed, very rich, served with brandy sauce or what my Canadian (of Scottish descent) relatives called “hard sauce.” They always made it in Canada, and my father grew up with that tradition. Because I don’t age my Christmas pudding, it is soft like sticky toffee pudding, and I like it that way. But this year I did make a fruit cake that is aging and waiting for Christmastime, and I will steam a Christmas pudding also. I will make an aged Christmas pudding next year!

    We have also had trifle sometimes for Christmas Eve. I don’t know if this is more of a Scottish thing than British – you would have to tell me. But that is where we get our custard, and we usually make up Birds. Mince pies are for Hogmanay (New Years). I prefer making mine from scratch because they are so much better than store-bought.

    ‘Neeps ‘n tatties” always accompanies our Christmas dinner (potatoes and turnips or Swede(rutabaga) mashed together). We usually also serve Brussels sprouts with dinner. We tried asparagus, but one of our grown children hates it.

    What would a British holiday be without excellent craftsman cheeses? Wensleydale, sharp cheddar, smoked cheeses, and stilton? We put out a cheese board with good crackers, sliced pear, nuts, and other things for nibbling on Christmas Eve. Usually somewhere during the holiday, either along with the cheeseboard or for what my husband calls “a cookie breakfast,” we will have kippers or smoked herring, or even cockles.

    Another food that accompanies our holiday, is a LOT of gingerbread… oh and quality homemade shortbread, too, that I press into a mold for nice designs. And SOMETHING made with puff pastry! Puff pastry is also less common here in the U.S. I wonder what I can make with it this year? Any suggestions?

    We also order British chocolates and “sweeties” for Christmastime… Cadburys, particularly types of Cadburys we can’t get off the shelf here like Cadburys drinking chocolate. This year I ordered large boxes of Whispa and Bounty which the kids love. Allsorts is another one… Flake… and my husband always orders a large tin of Quality Street for me, which I try to share… sort of.

    Thank you everyone for giving me ideas!






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