Chicago is one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the country. Large populations of first and second generation nationalities call the Windy City home and continue to celebrate many of their home country’s traditions. And while the common denominator of each celebration is the gathering of family and friends, the similarities end there. Traditional ethnic food and special ceremonies vary greatly.

Bring a little variety to your holiday meal! This guide offers information on where to find some of the more popular holiday and ethnic food items. Venture out of your neighborhood and try some of these specialties!

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German Christmas Foods and Traditions

Popular Christmas foods in Germany include baked fruit loaves, bratwurst sausage, a Christmas goose or ham, roasted nuts and the dessert known as lebkuchen, similar to gingerbread. It is a soft pastry made with cardamom, coriander, cloves and cinnamon.

For other German holiday items, such as ornaments, decorations and gift items, be sure to check out the Christkindlmarket in downtown Chicago (which we wrote an article on, right here). You’ll find lots of great German food, tool, such as schnitzel, potato pancakes and sausages.

(credit: Thinkstock)

Polish Christmas Foods and Traditions

The most cherished Polish Christmas tradition is the sharing of the oplatek (pronounced opwatek) before the Christmas even supper. Wishes for peace and prosperity are exchanged as the thin wafer is shared and even the pets are given a piece. Legend has it that if animals eat oplatek on Christmas Eve, they will be able to speak in human voices at midnight, but only those who are pure of spirit will be able to hear them.

If you’re celebrating Christmas with Polish family, you might also get a taste of borscht (a beetroot soup), a piernik (a honey cake with a chocolate glaze), uszka (dumplings) or cwibak (Christmas fruit cake).

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(credit: Thinkstock)

Mexican Christmas Foods and Traditions

A Mexican Christmas is more than a one-night gathering. Families gather over a period of three weeks, many nights traveling to houses in the neighborhood, symbolizing the journey to Bethlehem. Upon arriving at the home, they are greeted with food, hospitality, singing and readings.

Adults might enjoy ponche con piquete (a hot punch this is made of blends of seasonal fruits and a shot of wine or spirits, served with a cinnamon stick), while kids will enjoy champurrado (Mexican Hot Chocolate). Traditional Mexican foods, such as tamales and chili rellenos, are also popular during the holiday.

(credit: Thinkstock)

Italian Christmas Foods and Traditions

Like many holidays around the world, Italian Christmas has a long-loved list of traditional foods that is topped only by the company of family and friends.

A large meal will begin with the “antipasto” platter, an extensive appetizer. You might find caviar or smoked salmon or bruschettas and cold cuts artfully arranged with green and black olives, stuffed mushrooms, shrimp salad, pickled vegetables and more. Each family seems to have their own traditions.

The meal often ends with the Christmas panettone a soft, cake-like fruitcake baked in a tall mold. It is usually filled with raisins, fruits, and honey.

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Kristin McCann is working mom with two young girls. She strives to have fun, quality time with her family and a fulfilling professional career – even though many believe the two to be mutually exclusive.