Ursul—Romania’s Bear Dance Festival

Christmas traditions and New Year traditions are often intertwined, especially in countries where pagan rituals were absorbed into Christian holidays. In Comanesti, Romania, for example, the weeklong Christmas to New Year celebration isn’t complete without dancing bears.

On the 12th Day of Imported Christmas,* we held our own mini Ursul parade and explored this striking tradition that has captivated photographers and visitors every year.

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Peppermint Pig—Saratoga’s Shattered Sow

You may be surprised how many Christmas traditions involve smashing things. In Oaxaca, the festivities include breaking ceramic plates near the cathedral to signify the end of the year. In England, shops sell slabs of toffee with tiny hammers for all your whacking needs. And in Saratoga Springs, New York, locals visit Saratoga Sweets to buy a small peppermint pig to smash for good luck.

On the Eleventh Day of Imported Christmas, we ordered our own peppermint pig to add a little more smashing to our holiday lineup.

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Julkalender—Sweden’s Serialized TV Christmas Countdown

There is just something about late November and December that makes pretty mediocre cinema suddenly magical because it has Christmas in the title. We can easily suspend disbelief for poorly-run small town businesses being saved, princes popping up by the dozen in the Midwest, and love at second sight at the very latest.

On the Tenth Day of Imported Christmas, we discovered that the Nordic countries are way ahead of us in the Christmas content arena, thanks to their annual televised julkalender.

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Porchetta—Italy’s Decadent Pork Centerpiece

One of my favorite parts of the days leading up to Christmas is finalizing what we are going to eat for dinner that day. Thanksgiving is fun and all, but you are pretty much locked in with turkey every year. Christmas, on the other hand, presents endless options, especially when you start looking at how other countries celebrate.

On the Ninth Day of Imported Christmas, we made made porchetta to see if this Italian specialty deserved a spot in the rotating Christmas dinner menu (Too impatient to read to the end? The answer is a resounding yes).

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Pumpple Cake—Philadelphia’s Quadruple Dessert

Desserts tend to get much more lavish around the holidays. This could be because people have time off (and therefore more time to spend in the kitchen). It could also be because everyone has stopped counting calories and resigned themselves to eating three days worth of sugar in one sitting.

On the Eighth Day of Imported Christmas, we stopped trying to decide which desserts to make and just made all of them at once in the form of a pumpple cake.

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Glückspilz—Germany’s Lucky Mushroom

I don’t remember how old I was when I stopped picturing bright red caps with white spots when someone mentioned mushrooms. Perhaps when I started thinking of them as food instead of fairy furniture. But no matter how many shades of brown I imagine now, there is still something magical about those spotted red fungi.

On the Seventh Day of Imported Christmas, we learned that making our tree more adorable with tiny red mushrooms is, in fact, a German tradition.

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Figgy Pudding—England’s Fiery Festive Centerpiece

Figgy pudding has confused many a modern caroler in America, though we all just kept asking for it and threatening to loiter until we got some. Having now tried the famous dish, I have to say, I wouldn’t ever turn down a slice. It is warm, rich, and extremely Christmasy.

On the Sixth Day of Imported Christmas, we set a boiled figgy pudding on fire to make the dessert course both more festive and more dangerous.

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Himmeli—Finland’s Geometric Straw Ornaments

Cultures from around the world use wheat, hay, or straw as an integral part of their Christmas decorations. For some, bushels of wheat are brought into the house or placed under the tablecloth to represents hope for a good harvest in the coming year. For others, straw is spread as a symbol of the straw that lined the manger of Christ at His birth. In Finland, straw takes on a much more structured form.

On the Fifth Day of Imported Christmas, we made a himmeli, using straw and thread to form geometric shapes that have given our house a beautiful Nordic feel this season.

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Rellenong Manok—The Phillipines’ Elaborately Stuffed Christmas Chicken

This season isn’t the first time Gordon has deboned an entire chicken for the sake of stuffing it with other things and roasting it (see Whole-Roasted Chicken Cordon Bleu). But this Filipino dish takes stuffing to a whole new level.

On the Fourth Day of Imported Christmas, we turned a chicken and a whole bunch of ingredients we’d never put together before into rellenong manok.

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Stargazy Pie—Cornwall’s Town-Saving Fish Dish

Gordon first described Stargazy Pie to me without showing me a picture. I was drawn in by the whimsical name and legend of a stormy night, a brave fisherman, and an entire town saved by a hearty fish pie. By the time I saw a photo of scaly fish heads and tails bursting through pastry, I was too convinced to back down.

On the Third Day of Imported Christmas, we used seven different types of fish to make our own Stargazy Pie.

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