Once November hits, Chicagoans are on watch for a local radio station, 93.9 FM, to change over to all Christmas music. This year, that happened on Nov. 7. That means roughly seven weeks of yuletide tunes delivering good cheer to the Windy City. This year, as I was listening, I noticed certain songs calling attention to various food items. As a result, I looked a bit closer to lyrics of more Christmas classics for culinary inspiration. What I found was a mix of holiday staples, mysteries, and general ideas. If you’re looking for some great Christmas dishes, look no further than your holiday playlist. Without further ado, here are some swinging ditties and the holiday foods they reference or inspire.

The Christmas Song

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This classic, most famously sung by Nat King Cole, references two holiday favorites: 1) Chestnuts (“roasting on an open fire”); and 2) Turkey. Despite consuming this particular bird at Thanksgiving, a mere month prior, turkey is quite often on the Christmas dinner table too! This means you get another shot at this holiday fowl if you didn’t get your fix in November.

The more interesting items here (at least as far as I’m concerned) are these chestnuts roasting on an open fire. I’ve never had them, but I do love roasted cinnamon-sugar almonds and pecans at the holidays, so I might have to give these a go sometime soon. Get our Pan-Roasted Chestnuts recipe.  

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

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There are few songs out there that get the Christmas season going like Bing Crosby’s rendition of this song. The holiday food referenced here are candy canes. Here’s where my mind starts to wander! Drinks, pies, cookies, and ice creams can all use candy canes. So, if you’re looking to make a holiday dessert, try to incorporate candy canes. I found a recipe for chocolate sandwiches with candy cane buttercream filling that sounds amazing. Try it here. And if you’re looking to make a drink a bit more Christmasy (perhaps for that ugly sweater cocktail party you’re throwing), consider using a candy cane simple syrup. Get our Candy Cane Simple Syrup recipe.

Let it Snow

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There’s nothing cozier than a heavy winter snowfall during the Christmas season while listening to Dean Martin’s rendition of Let it Snow. And if you happen to be in this precise situation, you could do a lot worse than popping up some fresh corn kernels, as the song references. However, instead of a plain old batch of popcorn, consider something a little more special, like caramel corn. Get our Caramel Corn recipe.

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

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Andy Williams singing It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year makes you believe there really is no better time of year than Christmas. You know what helps make that the truth? According to the song, marshmallows! So, if you get inspired by this song and want “marshmallows for toasting,” consider a modern take on an old classic, homemade s’more pop tarts

Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree

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This song brings back memories of Kevin McCallister duping Harry and Marv with some ingenious trickery. Put on Brenda Lee’s “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” to get your party feeling fresh, or to convince two burglars that you’re not home alone. You might even see some dancing! And once the dancing is done, you might hope the lyric, “later we’ll have some pumpkin pie” is true. All that dancing works up an appetite. Pumpkin pie is a holiday standard, but if you’re looking for a recipe, get our Basic Pumpkin Pie recipe here.

Here We Come A-Wassailing

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Whenever I hear this song, I’m transported back in time, and for an old-timey song like this, you need an old-timey drink. Luckily, the song title gives us just what we need: wassail. I didn’t know what it was until two minutes ago, but this spiced cider is just what the doctor ordered on a cold winter’s night. Oh, and while we’re on the subject of warm Christmas spirits, I’d imagine this is about as close as you’ll get to what Burl Ives means by a “cup of cheer” in “Holly Jolly Christmas.” Get our Spiked Wassail recipe.

We Wish You a Merry Christmas

Nitty Gritty Life

This is another tune that takes me to a bygone era, especially when Bing Crosby demands some figgy pudding. I don’t know how it tastes, but it sounds like something Bob Cratchit might have with Tiny Tim. If you’re feeling bold, try this recipe here.

The 12 Days of Christmas

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This clever tune has all sorts of food possibilities. I’m not sure that’s what the songwriters had in mind, but I’m a food guy (not really a foodie, just a guy that really likes food), so my head goes in that direction if given even the smallest opening. Going through this song, I was struck by the following:

  1. A partridge in a pear tree. Hearing this made me think about some sort of pear crisp. If you happen to find some good pears, this dessert could be a welcome alternative to the typical apple and pumpkin pies of the holidays. Get our Gingered Pear Crisp recipe.
  2. Three french hens. You know what might be a great switch from turkey? Cornish game hens. This year, at Christmas dinner, it might be worth a try. Get our Cornish Game Hens with Millet Stuffing recipe.
  3. Five golden rings. Here’s where I start to use my creativity. Let’s say you’re hosting a cocktail party and you just want to have some appetizers. Five golden onion rings could be a great, 12-Days-of-Christmas-inspired choice. Get our Onion Rings recipe.
  4. Six geese-a-laying. Another great alternative to turkey is the more expensive, yet more traditional Christmas goose. I’ve never had goose, but all the old-timey Christmas movie like “A Christmas Carol” show the main characters sitting down to enjoy a special meal featuring a goose. I’d be super impressed if I were served goose for Christmas Eve dinner. Might be worth a shot! Get our Roast Goose recipe.

We Need A Little Christmas

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Johnny Mathis might be onto something when he sings, “We need a little Christmas, right this very minute.” For some, this means indulging in a fruitcake. This filling holiday carb is a love-it-or-hate-it item, but if you’re in the mood to try one, get our Spiced Dark Fruitcake recipe here.

You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch

This is kind of an odd one, but when I hear the theme song for our favorite green character who steals Christmas, I think of serving shrimp scampi with spinach (read: green) pasta. Why? Because, according to the song, good ole Mr. Grinch has garlic in his soul! Get our Basic Shrimp Scampi recipe (using spinach pasta, of course).

It’s a Marshmallow World

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This one might seem simple, uninspired, or lacking creativity, but sometimes, you go with a classic. Whenever I hear this song, which references marshmallows and whipped cream, I think of hot chocolate. Why? Because marshmallows and whipped cream are perfect accompaniments for this warm, sweet beverage. To make your own whipped cream, get our Basic Whipped Cream recipe. For homemade marshmallows, try this recipe here

The Nutcracker

Real Simple

This higher-brow Christmas masterpiece by Tchaikovsky features numerous foods: chocolate, coffee, tea, candy canes, marzipan, and ginger. But the highest profile Christmas goodie is the sugar plum, thanks to the dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy. If you care to involve another one of your senses while listening to/watching The Nutcracker Suite, maybe you’ll want to try some sugar plums to see if the taste matches the tune. Try this recipe here.

Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer

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This goofy tune has one thing going for it: referencing eggnog. Another love-it-or-hate-it holiday staple, eggnog can be served with or without alcohol, depending on what kind of celebration you’re having. Want to make your own eggnog? Get our Best Eggnog recipe. Not a fan of eggnog, but always try it because it’s Christmas and you need to have some? What about using eggnog as an ingredient in something like eggnog french toast? Christmas morning may never be the same! Get our Eggnog French Toast recipe.

Whether you’re planning an upscale cocktail party, a lower-brow ugly sweater party, a post-midnight mass breakfast, or a full-blown Christmas dinner, you hopefully now have some Christmas-music-inspired dishes/drinks to serve your guests. For the most clever among us, you might even have enough to make a Christmas playlist that perfectly complements your menu. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good meal!

Greg Stegeman is a 30-something father and husband who likes to eat, cook, and talk food. He simultaneously exploits and breaks down gender stereotypes that suggest men aren’t domestically capable.
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