The Best Food For Every Major Holiday, Ranked

Holiday menus are especially important for anyone who's planning to host a group. No matter the occasion, what goes on the table sets the tone for the celebration. While each holiday has its own special flavor, there's a single dish that stands out in front of the rest. These dishes are part of the festive memories and become the flavors that families and friends look forward to during the season.

While the best foods for holidays like Christmas may vary by region, most major holidays have signature dishes that are easily recognized. Some of them are only reserved for that specific day, while others make tempting appearances in meals during the rest of the year. But which of these special occasions has the best trademark dishes of all? 

Not to play favorites, but we've done the heavy lifting to select the best food for key holidays, ranked by our secret process of drooling over them one by one. There's no place like the home table for the holidays, and these dishes are on deck to prove it.

16. Halloween: Eyeball pasta

Halloween is the one holiday where spooking people with food is not only allowed but entirely expected. Our love of creepy foods makes dishes like eyeball pasta especially fun and exciting. A simple combination of spaghetti or fettuccine with sliced eggs or spheres of mozzarella with green olives can transform the expected pasta dish into something ghoulish, ghastly, and grotesquely satisfying. With a balance of gross-out horror and gourmet goodness, eyeball pasta represents all that is sumptuously scary about Halloween.

The trick to making spooky food that people will love is to use familiar elements in creative ways. In the case of eyeball pasta, using colored noodles or even adding food coloring to alter the hue allows you to create a base everyone can recognize. By creating eyeballs out of eggs or cheese, you challenge diners to solve the riddle of how you made such a repulsive yet satisfying dish for your Halloween celebration. When done properly, including spooky eyeball pasta among your other devilish dishes will elicit both wonder and hunger from your guests.

15. St. Patrick's Day: Corned beef and cabbage

There's some question as to whether or not corned beef and cabbage, the official food of Saint Patrick's Day in America, is truly an Irish dish associated with the holiday. Irish immigrants arriving in America would have been likely to eat the saucy blend of stewed cabbage and tender corned beef, according to Smithsonian Institution. So although there is a relationship between corned beef and cabbage and Irish culture, it's just among Irish Americans. 

Still, when the calendar shows March 17, corned beef and cabbage becomes a cornerstone of restaurant promotions and food blogs sharing the Saint Patrick's Day spirit. Though the holiday occurs close to the first day of spring, lingering chilly weather makes a hearty dish like corned beef and cabbage a soothing and familiar comfort food choice. True Irish connection or not, the holiday would be a far less savory occasion without this humble yet celebrated culinary creation.

14. New Year's: Black-eyed peas

The tradition of eating black-eyed peas on New Year's Day stems from ancient beliefs that the beans bring good luck. Early Jewish settlers in Georgia were known to eat them as part of their seder on Rosh Hashanah. As cultures in the region blended, the African delicacy of black-eyed peas served with rice became a Southern staple. The presumed good fortune of black-eyed peas carried forward as a New Year's tradition that is still loved in the South and beyond.

Families have their own way to prepare black-eyed peas, using recipes handed down through generations. Some versions opt for fresh greens, while others include ham hocks or ham bones to add flavor and texture. Whichever way they are prepared, black-eyed peas provide a warm and hearty dish that signals comfort and prosperity for the coming year. That's a pretty worthy quality for a holiday meal.

13. Mardi Gras: King cake

As a holiday celebrating the glory of indulgence before a period of abstinence, Mardi Gras is the perfect occasion for a sweet treat like a king cake. This decadent baked good is more of a giant pastry than a cake, ideal for feeding hungry partiers rolling through New Orleans ready to let the good times roll. King cake is so popular that bakeries like Gambino's sell versions year-round, shipping them across the U.S. to fans in the know. But the truest of the king cakes is reserved for Fat Tuesday, the date after which many people entirely give up sugar or sweets.

To make a king cake extra festive, bakers decorate the tops with sugar crystals in green, gold, and purple, the traditional colors of Mardi Gras. The lucky reveler who finds the bean or tiny plastic baby in their slice is crowned king or queen of the party. While other indulgent delights like pralines and crawfish are also quintessential holiday dishes, king cake is an iconic representation of the Mardi Gras tradition.

12. Passover: Matzo ball soup

Seder, the dinner enjoyed by religious Jews at Passover, consists of a variety of traditional dishes, the most essential being matzo ball soup. Along with a soothing clear broth, matzo ball soup makes use of matzo, an unleavened bread familiar in Jewish history and religion. Matzo ball soup itself originated as a way to use up the remaining crumbs of commercialized matzo. The resulting dish has become a key player in modern Passover traditions.

Matzo has a biblical history dating back to the times of Moses when it was one of the few foods Jews were able to take with them as they fled persecution. Matzo is a sturdy cracker-like bread that comes in square sheets and is popular in grocery store displays of Passover foods. The hominess of a bowl of matzo ball soup lets families share a comfort food favorite while celebrating one of their holiest days.

11. Labor Day: Grilled burgers

There's no better way to conclude summer celebrations than by serving grilled burgers at a Labor Day get-together. Smoky burgers on the grill are a great way to send off the last days of summer vacation with a memorable meal. As a holiday that celebrates the American worker, having a relatable dish of grilled meat sets the tone for laid-back outdoor festivities. For many families, Labor Day marks the start of the school year, which may mean outdoor grilling becomes less frequent as the weather gets cooler. This opportunity to have one last cookout with friends and family provides a nostalgic occasion for grilled burgers to be the star.

For such a simple dish, it can be tricky to grill the optimal juicy burger. Avoid Labor Day disappointment by practicing your patty-grilling technique throughout the summer. This way, you will have perfected the art by the time the big day comes around.

10. Mother's Day: Fritatta

Mother's Day presents a rare opportunity for busy moms to take a break and leave their kids to do the cooking. Frittatas star at the top of the menu as a customizable easy-to-love dish. The luxurious quiche-like preparation transforms eggs, meat, and vegetables into a culinary masterpiece worthy of celebrating the heart of the family. Brunch is often the meal of choice for Mother's Day celebrations, and frittatas are a welcome dish among the assortment.

Holidays celebrating moms originated with ancient cultures, though it's unlikely that they were serving frittatas at brunch during their festivities. As Mother's Day became a more contemporary and cosmopolitan holiday, frittatas had a chance to shine in an elegant brunch spread. Rather than celebrating with croissants, pancakes, waffles, and other familiar brunch items, the thoughtful work that goes into creating a frittata demonstrates an appreciation for mom that no other dish can match. 

9. Valentine's Day: Chocolate-covered strawberries

Aside from heart-shaped boxes of chocolates, chocolate-covered strawberries are the most iconic food associated with Valentine's Day. Is it the striking red color or the unmistakable heart shape of the fruit itself? Or is it the fact that strawberries become available around Valentine's Day and are undeniably heavenly when dipped in chocolate? 

The connection between strawberries and love is an invention of the Romans, who used the fruit to represent their deity Venus. Strawberries covered in chocolate only came about in 1964 thanks to the confectionery genius of Lorraine Lorusso. As it turns out, the romance between chocolate-covered strawberries and Valentine's Day is actually a recent development.

No matter how it came to be, the passionate contrast between sweet, tangy strawberries and luscious chocolate is a match made in holiday heaven. You don't have to be involved in a torrid romance to enjoy the richness of these bite-sized confectionery gems. Chocolate-covered strawberries are enough to set even the most unromantic heart aflame when Valentine's Day circles around on the calendar.

8. Easter: Ham

A proper Easter table just wouldn't be complete without a ham taking its rightful place in the center of the spread. While Easter eggs may be the most recognized visual symbol of food for the holiday, ham is the hallmark dish that tells you dinner is served. Whether prepared with a sweet glaze or a more savory treatment, ham sets the tone for which all other Easter dishes are coordinated.

Rather than having a religious connotation, ham has a more rational history as part of an Easter dinner. Per Farmer's Almanac, due to its preservation, ham lasts through winter ready to be served during springtime celebrations. Now, just the mention of this holiday brings to mind visions of a spiral-sliced ham surrounded by vegetable dishes and salads that accentuate the flavor and create a balanced menu. Even deviled eggs can't pull the tablecloth out from under ham's place on the Easter menu.

7. Thanksgiving: Turkey

Some Thanksgiving celebrations may include ham or lasagna, but the most familiar dish for the holiday is of course the turkey. The popular misconception that turkey was present at the original Thanksgiving Day feast may be part of why this grand fowl has become an indelible tradition. More likely, the fact that turkey was a popular protein in American cuisine placed it at the heart of one of the country's most cherished holidays. Generations later, a Thanksgiving turkey is often seen as the pinnacle of holiday dining.

It may be difficult to believe, but at one point turkeys were valued as a source of decorative plumage rather than food, according to Best Life Online. Luckily, revelers came to their senses and made turkey a must-have during Thanksgiving meals. Celebrating the holiday with turkey says nothing of the days that follow when turkey sandwiches, soup, pot pie, and more are on the menu. The list of turkey holiday leftovers to be thankful for is practically endless!

6. Ramadan: Dates

While Ramadan is a holiday where fasting is practiced, the foods used to break the fast are as significant as the fast itself. Dates are the most common food served to signify the end of the fasting period. Among other foods eaten during Ramadan, dates are simple yet religiously significant in the Islamic faith. Grown in many regions in the Middle East, dates were the food Prophet Muhammad is said to have eaten to break his fast. For this reason, modern Muslims eat dates out of reverence as well as to maintain the spiritual connection to their religious heritage.

Dates are high in fiber and naturally sweet, with a flavor that is strikingly similar to caramel. According to Arab News, eating dates immediately after a fast can help regulate blood sugar, providing an added benefit. The blend of historical, religious, and nutritional significance makes dates a key element of Ramadan.

5. Hanukkah: Latkes

Latkes are as much a part of Hanukkah celebrations as dreidels and menorahs. But these potato fritters are more than just a tasty treat at the holiday dinner table. Hanukkah commemorates the miracle of the Jewish people extending one night's worth of lamp oil over the duration of eight nights. For this reason, oil features prominently in Hanukkah dishes like fried latkes. The significance of the oil makes latkes a symbol of the struggle for freedom faced by people of Jewish faith.

Latkes appeared as part of Jewish cuisine around the start of the 1800s. Though they may show up on other occasions, they have become most familiar as a Hanukkah dish and are a treat many people look forward to enjoying during the winter months. Latkes provide a link to the past as well as a way to celebrate the future while appreciating the sense of community Hanukkah inspires. For such a small and humble creation, latkes play an important part in the traditional celebration of light.

4. Memorial Day: BBQ ribs

A Memorial Day cookout with BBQ ribs is one of the most delicious ways to signal the start of summer. Not every food fan is willing to brave the heat for a cookout, so some resort to restaurant specials instead. Still, Memorial Day is often when grill masters fire up their barbecues for the first time all year. Having special dishes like BBQ ribs gives outdoor chefs a chance to show off their chops. From choosing sauces to selecting just the right racks for their audience, pulling off proper BBQ ribs can mean the difference between a memorable Memorial Day celebration and one you'd rather forget.

Although Memorial Day is actually an observance of the sacrifices made by American soldiers, energetic backyard get-togethers give the holiday a more uplifting spirit. BBQ ribs are a favorite open-flame preparation, and making them the star of the event gives them a unique place on the national menu. No matter what regional style is served, having BBQ ribs among the spread imbues this holiday with true American flavor.

3. Father's Day: Steaks

If you're going to celebrate dad properly, then including steaks as the centerpiece of your Father's Day meal is non-negotiable. There may be no better dish to capture the spirit of the meat-and-potatoes sensibility for which dads are known and loved. Father's Day is a relatively recent addition to the annual holiday calendar and was made official by President Richard Nixon in 1972. Dads have been around much longer than that, which makes steak the perfect holiday food to compensate for centuries of missed celebrations.

Dad may be used to eating steak throughout the year, so choosing the best steak cuts is a must for Father's Day. Whether he loves a filet or would rather slice into prime rib, creating a meal fit for your dad means choosing the steak that's right for him. As holiday foods go, few selections are more appropriate to express your gratitude with the proper dad-itude than steak.

2. Christmas: Prime rib

Though Christmas may share overlapping foods with other winter festivities, prime rib provides a singular culinary specialty for the holiday to claim as its own. The high quality of prime rib cuts is perfect for preparing a special central dish for such a significant occasion. Industrial developmentsand the prevalence of better beef options may have led to the introduction of prime rib as a Christmas dish.

Prime rib is a well-deserved name for the best cut from the upper section of the back rib. When prepared properly, this beef roast is juicy and succulent, filled with flavor, and tender to the tooth. It's also warm and hearty, providing an ideal main dish to surround with a variety of traditional Christmas sides. Though a goose may be a familiar image from beloved carols and holiday stories, prime rib really adds the star on the top of the tree for a perfect Christmas dinner.

1. Independence Day: Hot dogs

Hot dogs are inextricably linked to the Fourth of July as a symbol of American happiness that conjures up the type of patriotism that only this holiday can truly express. No other event can claim an accompanying dish so emblematic of the occasion it celebrates. Regardless of what other food might be on the picnic table at a Fourth of July celebration, the party hasn't started until the hot dogs are ready.

Hot dogs are such an important part of the traditions that a dedicated eating contest has become a staple of the date. Held by hot dog maker Nathan's in Coney Island, this annual hot dog eating contest is a chance for challenge champions to test their mettle by eating as many hot dogs as possible in 10 minutes. Professional eater Joey Chestnut holds the record for devouring 76 hot dogs at the 2022 contest. Any food that has its own eating contest during America's most patriotic holiday has to be the best holiday food of all time. Healthiest? Not even close. The best? Without a doubt.