5 Holiday Culinary Customs from Around the World

From Puerto Rico's pasteles to a famous New Year’s Eve tradition in Spain, savor these culinary customs for the holidays.
by 1580

Mince pie, grapes, Three Kings cake and more: There's a variety of holiday dishes and traditions around the world.

Credit: iStock

When you think about the holidays, sugar cookies, mulled wine and gathering with your loved ones may come to mind. Whether you’re looking for inspiration to get into the holiday spirit or new dishes to bring to the next potluck, there are few better times to explore the world through food than during the holidays. We’ve gathered several culinary holiday customs for you to get started, from recipes that have stood the test of time to traditions that bring luck in the new year.

Read on for five iconic holiday dishes from destinations you can visit on a Royal Caribbean cruise, like Mexico, Greece, Puerto Rico and more:

During Epiphany, Three Kings cake is cut into slices to be shared around a table and served with hot chocolate.

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Three Kings Cake – Mexico

Twelve days after Christmas comes another special day in Mexico, Spain and many other Latin and Hispanic countries: Epiphany. The holiday is celebrated with feasting in remembrance of the nativity story about three wise kings. In Mexico, the day is complete with an iconic, round pastry ring called rosca de reyes (ring of the kings or Three Kings cake). It’s known for its round shape, the dried red, white and green dried fruit on top in honor of the colors on the Mexican flag; and cream or chocolate filling.

One of the most well-known parts of the custom is the baby figurine baked inside the cake. Whoever finds the figurine gets to bring tamales to Candlemas, a February feast day.

Fun fact: Three Kings cake shares many qualities with the Mardi Gras tradition of king cake in New Orleans, Louisiana. Interestingly, while the rosca has Spanish roots, Mardi Gras celebrations were inspired by French culture and cuisine.

Dive into more of Mexico’s customs on a Caribbean cruise.


Melomakarona, Greek cookies, are shaped by hand and made with olive oil, which keeps them moist.

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Melomakarona – Greece

The holiday season in Greece and the Greek Isles means an infusion of traditional cuisines and customs. One of the sweetest of these is a simple cookie known as the melomakarona. These small, oval-shaped cookies are often filled with ground walnuts and soaked in a honey-and-sugar syrup.

You know it’s that time of year when the air is filled with the scent of honey and orange zest because many Mediterranean bakeries and homes come alive baking the celebratory treat. You can even find melomakarona dipped in chocolate, a more modern spin to the classic recipe.

Discover more Greek culture and the greater Mediterranean on a vacation with Royal Caribbean, with a ship like Odyssey of the Seas, here.


Traditional English mince pies are often baked in individual portions and with a star cutout of dough on top.

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Mince Pie – England

Mince pies have reportedly been an English holiday tradition since the 13th century, when soldiers returning home from the crusades brought back spices, like nutmeg and cinnamon, for the first time. British cooks incorporated these new flavors into their cooking, and the rest was history. This gave rise to the mince pie, a pastry dish filled with spices, dried fruit, liquor and beef or venison.

By the mid-20th century, what was known as the pie’s mincemeat filling no longer included meat but featured apples and dried fruit, like raisins, instead. Throughout history, these pies remain one of the most common and recognizable English holiday dishes.

Find the best of the British Isles and beyond on a Europe cruise aboard a ship like Anthem of the Seas.


The pastel, a holiday season staple in Puerto Rico, is often made of plantains and pork.

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Pastel ­– Puerto Rico

The Pastel is a holiday dish customarily served with dinner in Puerto Rico. It’s also a recipe that requires time and patience to make and, usually, many helpers in the kitchen. There’s no party like a pastel-making party to mark the start of the season in Puerto Rico.

Similar in concept to Mexican tamales, this comfort food is made with many Latin American and Caribbean ingredients—like plantains, banana leaves and taro root. And it’s often filled with ground pork (or sauteed vegetables) and an adobo sauce, which has a savory and spicy flavor. The outer part, also known as the masa, is a special mixture of grated green bananas, yautia (also known as taro) and spices. Once assembled, the pastel is then wrapped in banana leaves and boiled to perfection.

Explore the best of Puerto Rico, its cuisine and more on a Caribbean cruise.


In Spain and countries in Latin America, many people ring in the new year with 12 grapes.

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12 Grapes – Spain

Anyone want a little luck going into the new year? In Spain and a variety of Latin and Hispanic countries, luck can come in the form of a dozen grapes eaten as the clock strikes 12 on New Year’s Eve. The tradition can be traced back to around 1895. It was then popularized in the early 1900s, when vine growers advertised the custom during a particularly successful year of harvest. For some, it was even viewed as a kind of magic to ward off evil.

Today, the tradition is Spain’s most famous no-assembly-required New Year’s Eve dish. Whether celebrating at home with loved ones or in a lively square in Barcelona, each person should have a batch of 12 grapes—one for every month of the year. When the clock strikes 12, it’s time to start eating a grape with each chime of midnight. Grape by grape, take the time to reflect on your hopes for the year ahead.

Revel in more Spanish culture on a cruise. Oasis and Symphony of the Seas, for example, visits various destinations in Spain and the Mediterranean.


Go on an adventure packed with cultural and culinary experiences (all of the fun without any dishes to clean up) by taking a Royal Caribbean cruise.