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Beyond Holiday Ham: International Christmas Dinners in L.A.

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One of the best parts about living in such an ethnically diverse city is that you really can travel without setting foot on a cramped jet plane through sampling a vast array of unique international eats. And the holiday season is no exception. Here are four unique representations of the Christmas spread that take it beyond the holiday ham.

German holiday feast with Rockenwagner:

Germans take this winter holiday very seriously, and rightfully so. Many Christmas traditions we recognize today -- like evergreen trees and stuffed stockings -- originated there. Naturally, food is a big part of the holiday in the European country. In fact, Christmas Eve in Germany is popularly called "dickbauch," meaning fat stomach, because of the myth that those who don't eat well on Christmas Eve will be haunted by demons during the night. To ward off the bad guys, you can stuff yourself at Hans Rockenwagner's 3 Square Cafe in Venice, where they'll be serving up traditional Southern German fare: roasted goose with red cabbage, spaetzle, and lingonberries are all part of Rockenwagner's holiday spread. For dessert, there's stollen, a rich German Christmas cake studded with fruit, almonds, and rum-soaked raisins, and spiced lubkuchen, a glazed almond marzipan cookie eaten all over Europe during the holidays. www.rockenwagner.com

Italian festa dei sette pesci at Drago Centro:

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There are a few different theories as to why Italians celebrate the Christmas Vigil, more commonly known as Christmas Eve, with a spread of seven fish. Some say it's because God created the Earth in seven days, others believe it's because of the seven Holy Sacraments in the Catholic church. Either way, December 24 equates to a seafood feast in Italy. Why seafood? Because the Catholic faith believes in abstaining from meat on holy days. (Those meatless Wednesdays in Lent ring a bell?) Southern Italian chef Celestino Drago is bringing the tradition to Drago Centro in Downtown L.A. Dishes on his festa dei sette pesci menu include inventive items like smoked salmon salad with a Christmas tree powder and a Maine lobster cappuccino alongside classic pastas and grilled branzino. (You can view a PDF of the full menu here.) The seven course dinner runs $70 per person. http://www.dragocentro.com/

Traditional Armenian Christmas fare at Carousel:

Armenian Christmas is technically celebrated on January 6, but our favorite Lebanese-Armenian spot in L.A. will be hosting a December 25 fete as well, complete with belly dancing troupes and live music. Dishes that are traditional to the Armenian Christmas table -- like basturma (thinly sliced cured dried beef similar to proscuitto), red tabouleh, and succulent grilled lamb -- will be served. Other items on the holiday menu include their classic mezzes meant for sharing, as well as sweets like apple baklava and cream-filled knefeh, which is made with shredded filo dough and topped with rose water syrup. http://www.carouselrestaurant.com

Las Posadas procession at Olvera Street:

During the Christmas season, one of L.A.'s most historic neighborhoods, Olvera Street, hosts the Mexican tradition of Las Posadas. For nine nights leading up to Christmas, Las Posadas recreates the procession of Mary and Joseph from inn to inn asking for shelter. Starting tomorrow and going through December 24, volunteers dressed for the parts are followed by children, adults and animals, stopping at each merchant shop to exchange a singing story of asking for refuge and being rejected. The procession ends with hot cocoa and pan dulce for everyone. To celebrate the end of Las Posadas, on Christmas Eve, Mexican families gather to put together handmade tamales. If you're curious about how to make your own, Ortega 120 in Redondo Beach offers classes, or you could pick some up at one of our favorite tamaleras: Tamales Lilianas. For more info on the Olvera Street event, click here.