There’s more to Christmas dinner than a re-purposed Thanksgiving menu. Unlike the Turkey Day meal, Christmas dinner is much more flexible. Some people even have it on Christmas Eve. And many of us don’t even have turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce. Delve into other delicious ideas and start new traditions with your family and friends. Here, we’ve provided some tips for planning your Christmas Day meal and rounded up 30 of our favorite recipes for the holidays, from cocktails to cookies (of course), and from glazed ham to lamb. (For more on lamb, check our our step-by-step on cooking a boneless leg, and scroll our ideas for great lamb chop marinades.)
First, consider your oven space. Don’t plan a menu that requires too many oven-roasted, braised, or baked dishes, unless you can do several of them ahead of time. Like pie. Always do pie. You can do dessert ahead of time, no prob. And you probably should. One less thing to worry about on the holiday itself. So if you want to roast vegetables and a ham, think of alternative cooking methods: stovetop, grill, sous vide, slow cooker, Instant Pot are great options for either dish.
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Add something light and bright. With all the heavy meat and potatoes, you need something to balance it out. A salad will do the trick. But make it a seasonal salad with some fall or winter fruit, like this pear and spinach salad. Or, you may want something pickled, like these pickled carrots and shallots, to cut through the fatty nature of the other foods.
Plan your pie up to a month ahead of time. You can make and freeze your pie-crust dough … now. Get going. Or if you’re a pastry novice and not feeling like making an attempt on a flaky, buttery crust, don’t do store-bought. Instead, go another, also delicious, route with this Graham Cracker Crust recipe. You can make your pies, cakes, and cookies the day beforehand.
Check your dish situation. Make sure you have proper serving dishes and utensils. Depending on how you’re going to cook your meat, you might want to invest in a large roasting pan if you don’t already have one. And large platters and bowls are necessary, as well as a gravy boat and other items. If you’re in the market for something new, get some ideas from our Special Occasion Dishes and Linens article.
On Christmas Day, you can do a few tasks to make the dwindling hours before dinner less stressful. In the morning (before/after presents), assemble and bake the casserole side dishes so you only need to reheat them at dinner time. You could do this while you make breakfast. Five or fewer hours beforehand, mix and refrigerate any cocktails if you’re serving any, set up the drinks station, and do as much of the hors d’oeuvres as you can: wash and prep the crudités, slice the cheeses, and make the dips.1
The dark, cold nights of the newly turned Winter Solstice are the perfect times to break out this drink. It’s a very sophisticated blend of crème de cacao, brandy, and heavy cream. Shake with ice, then pour into a chilled glass, and top with a fresh grating of nutmeg. Get our Brandy Alexander recipe.
The sparkling, festive Christmas markets of Germany were the inspiration for this rich and fortifying recipe. You heat dry red wine with brandy, and infuse it with lemon and orange peel, cloves, cardamom, and cinnamon, then sweeten discretely with sugar. Get our German Mulled Wine recipe.
A cocktail from Cold War times, this is a blend of vodka and ginger beer, garnished with a lime wedge. It’s simple and refreshing, a welcome, ginger-flavored corrective to the creamy heaviness of a holiday drink like eggnog. Serve it in the traditional frosty copper mug! Get our Moscow Mule recipe.
Eggnog is the fuel that runs holiday parties, but how often is it really good? We’ve got nothing against a good-quality, non–sugary commercial eggnog, but for a really special party or event, we make our own, using this old-fashioned, good-old spiked recipe that needs time to cure. Get our Best Eggnog recipe.
A garlic and lemon rub with paprika, cumin, and coriander flavor this leg of lamb is cooked on a rotisserie spit until crispy and browned on the outside and juicy on the inside. Put a tray of potatoes, onion, fennel, and olives underneath the meat while it rotates on the spit so that its drippings don’t go to waste. Get our Mediterranean Rotisserie Leg of Lamb with Potatoes, Fennel, and Olives recipe.
The best part of this recipe might be that putting it all together for a holiday party is a snap. Gremolata, a mixture of parsley, garlic, and lemon zest, offers assertive fresh herb and citrus flavors. Get our Basic Boneless Roasted Leg of Lamb recipe.
One pan is all you need to get juicy, flavorful lamb chops. Don’t forget to rest the chops after they come out of the oven—you don’t want the juices to dribble out all over the plate. Get our Basic Sear-Roasted Lamb Loin Chops recipe.
A savory braising liquid with wine, citrus, and honey makes this leg of lamb as delicious as it is easy. Carve and serve the slices with a side of couscous or a lentil salad for a sophisticated holiday supper. Get our Braised Leg of Lamb recipe.
Fresh mint and cilantro pair with the classic Mediterranean spices of cinnamon, cumin, and coriander to liven up ground lamb and plain yogurt. To prepare these as a main course, form larger meatballs. Get our Lamb Meatballs with Lemon-Cumin Yogurt recipe.
Kokkinisto, which means “reddened” in Greek, is also the name of this dish: meat braised in tomatoes or a tomato sauce. Lamb cooked in this classic style creates a rich, hearty sauce for serving with Greek pasta coated in olive oil and myzithra cheese. Get our Greek Lamb Braised with Tomatoes recipe.
A beautifully glazed, seared-at-the-edges ham is a holiday centerpiece that only, perhaps, a turkey can vie with for sheer handsomeness. This recipe produces a gorgeous specimen. Please be careful, though, to buy the best ham your budget affords. Get our Honey-Mustard Glazed Ham recipe.
What’s the easiest (not cheapest) way to make a meal fancier? Add truffles or truffle oil. Rich and earthy oil from white truffles folds into fingerling potatoes for a umami-packed side dish. Get our Truffled Fingerling Smashed Potatoes recipe.
This side dish won’t get any beauty pageant awards, but tell us your rating after you taste the cheesiness and feel the fluffy texture in your mouth. We give it five stars. Get our Broccoli-Parmesan Casserole recipe.
You will barely notice the fresh escarole and feathery frisée greens because the poached pear and pungent blue cheese will take all the attention. No complaints here. It’s a salad that people won’t push to the side of their plates. Get our Poached Pear and Blue Cheese Salad recipe.
Sure, a marshmallow-topped, nicely browned sweet potato is a must-make for Thanksgiving, but what about Christmas? It’s easy to assemble in advance, looks cool, and goes remarkably well with a glazed ham as well, of course, as the traditional turkey. The main consideration: how good it tastes. Get our Sweet Potato Casserole recipe.
Butternut squash soup is a fall and winter staple. This recipe is a refinement: It’s not only delicious, with a hint of tart, Granny Smith apple that balances the squash’s sweetness, but it’s exceptionally easy to make. (Spoiler alert: You roast the squash whole, then peel and seed when it’s at maximum easiness.) Get our Roasted Butternut Squash Soup recipe.
This bread can go before, during, or after the meal. One taste of this moist, dark bread lets you know the holiday celebrations are on. This is a classic, easier to make than cookies or a fruitcake, and far more versatile. Serve it for breakfast with some good, strong coffee, for dessert after a light dinner (don’t forget the whipped cream!), and even as part of a holiday dinner basket of mixed breads. Get our Gingerbread Loaf recipe.
DESSERT (OK, MOSTLY COOKIES)
It’s good to gild the lily every now and again. So when we were left with a gallon of surplus eggnog while recipe-testing our Best Eggnog, we decided to update classic cheesecake by adding a gingersnap crust and a good slug of nog. Get our Eggnog Cheesecake recipe.
Now here’s a show-stopper. Can it get more seasonal than a cake that looks like a fluffy blanket of sweet snow? No. That’s the answer. Don’t use the regular coconut you see in most supermarkets. Spring for the good stuff. It really matters here. The three-layer cake will go great with a nice cocoa, hot apple cider, coffee, or after-dinner drink. Get our Christmas Coconut Cake recipe.
These cookies (literally “pepper nuts”) have been baked in some form since late Medieval days. They’re firm, spiced with cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, black pepper, and allspice, with honey, almonds and candied peel—essentially the most precious things available to bakers hundreds of year ago. They’re crisp and crumbly, insulated by a thick coating of powdered sugar. Get our Pfeffernüsse recipe.
Soft, chewy, warm, and spiced: These cookies brighten our fall and make the holidays exponentially merry. Sweetened with brown sugar, flavored with cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg, they get the bulk of their character via mildly sweet oats. Get our Spiced-Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies recipe.
Here they are, the cookies as essential to Christmas as the glass of milk left out for Santa on the night of December 24th. Leave out a plate of these buttery, gently crisp cookies in the shape of stockings and snowmen, and they’ll disappear, all right. Get our Christmas Sugar Cookies recipe.
These buttery hand-shaped cookies don’t just stand out at the cookie swap for their appearance, they’re also delicious. The dough contains lots of butter, like we said, but also powdered sugar and a mix of almond and vanilla extracts. Get our Candy Cane Cookies recipe.
Lacy, crisp, and delicate, Florentines are also seriously rich, with plenty of orange zest to balance out the chocolate and buttery caramel-nut flavors. They’re actually easy to make—just melt together sugar, butter, corn syrup, and cream, and mix in flour and almonds: No creaming necessary! Get our Florentines recipe.
“Icebox” because, once you make and shape the dough into logs or rectangular planks, all you need to do is slice a few off when the mood strikes you (or as the holiday cookie swap looms) and bake. This is a foundation recipe that you can alter in various ways. Get our Icebox Sugar Cookies recipe.
Instead of having to shape and fill individual thumbprint cookies, this ingenious shortcut version simplifies the process by baking logs of dough with a trough of jam down the center. After a quick bake, just slice the logs into cookies and they’re ready for a holiday cookie plate. Get our Split-Second Cookies recipe.
A cross between brownie and cookie, these rich cocoa beauties get their fractured tops by being rolling in white powdered sugar before baking. It creates a dramatic look on top of deep, fudgy, cake-like centers. Get our Chocolate Crinkle Cookies recipe.
The sweet, warm, spiced notes of gingerbread cookies say “holiday” regardless of whether you decorate these human-shaped cookies or leave them au naturel. Heads, legs, and arms are all up for grabs with these holiday favorites. Get our Gingerbread Cookies recipe.
Extra-gingery, molasses-sweetened cookies are sandwiched around a lemon cream that gets a triple dose of lemon from zest, juice, and extract. Make them for a fancy holiday cookie plate, a dinner party, or a lovely host gift. Get our Gingersnap Sandwich Cookies with Lemon Filling recipe.
They look difficult to make, but these two-tone cookies are actually pretty easy. Start with one batch of vanilla cookie dough, add chocolate to half of it, form four long, square logs, layer the dough into a checkerboard pattern, and slice. Get our Checkerboard Cookies recipe.
For more holiday recipes and articles, visit our Holiday page.
Related Video: This Is How Christmas Is Done in Cuba
— Article first created by John Birdsall in December 2015; updated by Amy Sowder December 2016; updated by Jessica Gentile 2018.