Our Christmas menu ideas for casual gatherings for the non-traditionalists include everything from a generous spread of Cambodian canapés to traditional Spanish tapas served with crusty bread and Mediterranean style salads, from a Tex-Mex cum Mexican fiesta featuring big old bowls of chilli and tacos to a Southeast Asian style shared family meal of warming curries.
Growing up in Sydney, Christmas Day meals were mostly spent dressed-up and seated around the dining tables of my grandparents’ houses. We’d have either a typical old-fashioned hot Australian Christmas dinner with several roasts and veggies followed by Christmas pudding and custard, or, at my Russian-Ukrainian grandparents home we’d spend many hours feasting on traditional dishes.
My mum was very much a non-traditionalist and wasn’t a fan of either on a stinking hot summer’s day, and dad also preferred a more casual outdoor meal such as a barbecue by a beach or lake. So over the years my parents developed our own Christmas tradition of a seafood feast or a ‘surf and turf’ meal of fresh seafood followed by and steak and sausage barbecue. I loved all three Christmas meals, to be honest.
But a casual spread for Christmas lunch or Christmas dinner does hold more appeal these days. And fortunately one of the biggest trends of 2022 was the super relaxed gathering of family and friends where the focus was on spending quality time with loved-ones, tucking into casual shared meals, rather than spending days in the kitchen prepping for elaborate dinners.
With that spirit in mind, I’ve got a round-up of some very non-traditional Christmas menu ideas for casual gatherings. So leave the table cloths in the cupboard, although you’ll need the cutlery. I’ve got both Christmas dinner menu ideas and Christmas lunch menu ideas if you’re looking for food that is easy and fun to eat. Merry Christmas, everyone!
And if you’re looking for more Christmas food inspiration, click through to these compilations of recipes for Christmas breakfast and Christmas brunch, Christmas cocktails, homemade dips for crackers and crudités, Christmas starters, Christmas salads, alternative Christmas roasts, and our idea of desserts for Christmas. You’ll find all of those in this best Christmas recipes collection.
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Christmas Menu Ideas for Casual Gatherings for the Non-Traditionalists
Our best Christmas menu ideas for casual gatherings for the non-traditionalists from a spread of Spanish tapas to a Mexican cum Tex-Mex fiesta.
Cambodian Canapés Spread
Topping my list of suggestions for non-traditional Christmas menu ideas for relaxed gatherings with loved-ones is this spread of creative Cambodian canapés which we conceived some years ago for easy summer entertaining here in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
Terence was behind this project and had been experimenting with different ways of presenting traditional Cambodian dishes as hors d’oeuvres that could be eaten in a bite or three. The result is a whole range of fun Cambodian finger food that you could also serve as starters.
While these would be fantastic for grazing on during a super-casual Christmas lunch, if you wanted to provide something more substantial you could always follow up with a big pot of your favourite Cambodian soup or curry and loads steamed rice, especially if you’re celebrating Christmas in the chilly northern hemisphere. You’ll find dozens of Cambodian recipes here.
An Alfresco Christmas Feast in the Sunshine
Here are some Christmas menu ideas if you’re celebrating Christmas in the sunny southern hemisphere and planning a light Christmas lunch on an outdoor deck or garden patio.
I recommend making this easy salmon tray bake the star attraction – crispy skinned salmon fillets baked so that the skin crackles but the flesh remains moist, with lightly roasted vegetables that are just-done so that they’re still fresh and crunchy.
If you’re feeding a large family or group of friends, I suggest a big bowl of creamy mashed potatoes and a few salads, such as this stunning salmon potato salad, this light aromatic herb salad, and this Mediterranean style tomato salad, which is another stunner.
If you’re not taken with any of those salads, you’ll find more ideas in this collection of our best salad recipes. A bottle of bubbly and a few nice bottles of chilled dry white wines, and a platter of fresh seasonal fruits for dessert and you’re set.
Tex-Mex or Mexican Inspired Fiesta
Another of our best non-traditional Christmas menu ideas for relaxed get-togethers for those of you in the sunny south celebrating Christmas in the sunshine is a Tex-Mex or Mexican inspired fiesta.
I recommend laying out a whole spread of Mexican specialties, sides, pickles, and hot sauces and let guests help themselves. You could start with bowls of authentic homemade guacamole, our spicy red tomato salsa and corn salsa, served with tortilla chips and margaritas or micheladas.
Make a big pot of Tex-Mex chilli con carne (or this vegan chilli) or Mexican chicken tinga and serve with plenty of warm corn tortillas or wheat flour tortillas, hot sauces (we like Tapatio and Cholula), and dishes of cotija (Mexican white cheese) or crema (or sour cream), homemade pickled jalapeños, pickled purple shallots, pickled purple cabbage, and Mexican pickled vegetables, and fresh coriander.
Best Spanish Tapas Recipes for a Tapas Bar Feast at Home
One of our best Christmas menu ideas for casual gatherings for the non-traditionalists is a spread of Spanish tapas. If you’re not already a lover of Spanish tapas, a tapa is a small snack plate available at tapas bars in Spain and abroad – tapas is plural – where a tapas bar hop is the best means by which to sample these delicious morsels.
We have long loved creating a spread of tapas at home, making traditional tapas sized plates if it’s just for us, or larger sized dishes for family and friends. Make a large Spanish potato tortilla and a Mediterranean style tomato salad, and serve with a few loaves of sliced crusty bread and you’ve got a fantastic alternative Christmas meal.
Our best Spanish tapas recipes include recipes for some of the most popular Spanish tapas bar snacks: the Spanish meatballs called albondigas, chorizo and potato croquettes recipe for croquetas de patata y chorizo, the classic garlic shrimp recipe for gambas al ajillo, a Spanish chorizo in red wine recipe for chorizo al vino tinto, and a simple calamari recipe for calamari a la plancha.
Curries for Christmas Dinner
I reckon this beats all my Christmas menu ideas for a super casual Christmas meal for the non-traditionalists and that’s a curry night, especially if you’re in the chilly northern hemisphere where folks are snowed-in.
If your family or friends are lovers of spicy food, put a few curries on in the afternoon, then turn the heat to low to let them simmer while you make salads, refrigerate those, and put some rice in the rice cooker, so you’re not in the kitchen when loved-ones arrive.
Curries are fantastic if you’re feeding a big family or group of friends as you can serve everything sharing style at the centre of the table and let everyone help themselves.
We’ve got loads of curry recipes from all over Southeast Asia and beyond, from Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, and Malaysia, along with South Africa, from the Cape Malay community in Cape Town. We’ve got egg curries and fish curries, pork curries and chicken curries, as well as curried noodles and curried soups.
Browse our collection of curries, below, and then use our Search box and search for ‘Thai food’, ‘Cambodian food’ or ‘Burmese food’ and so on for loads of Southeast Asian salads and sides.
Traditional Russian Ukrainian Christmas Family Meal
The Orthodox Christmas isn’t until early January, but as a child growing up in Australia with Russian-Ukrainian grandparents, we were lucky to celebrate two Christmases, with two feasts of traditional food at the home of my Russian-Ukrainian grandparents. (My grandfather was Russian and it was only this year that I learnt my grandmother had identified as Ukrainian.)
This hearty food is fantastic if you’re in the icy northern hemisphere right now as there are few things more warming than big bowls of borscht, casserole pots brimming with dumplings such as pelmeni and vareniki, and filling cabbage rolls just out of the oven.
You’ll find lots of comforting Russian Ukrainian recipes for a traditional Christmas meal of the kind I enjoyed as a child, and my full collection of traditional Russian recipes and Ukrainian recipes here that includes everything from my beef Stroganoff recipe and Russian chicken noodle soup with chicken meatballs to chicken Kiev.
Of course these Christmas menu ideas for Russian-Ukrainian dishes are only non-traditional if you’re not Russian or Ukrainian :)
Please do let us know if you make any of our non-traditional Christmas menu ideas for casual gatherings as we’d love to know how they turn out for you.