Christmas Food

Part of a series on the traditions of Christmas

So much of our Christmas tradition is linked to food. What we eat and when we eat it defines the way we celebrate the Christmas season.

Let’s start with the turkey. Turkeys don’t come from Turkey – they come from America, and were never known let alone eaten in Europe.

A large Christmas dinner has always been part of Christmas. But the traditional English Christmas dinner used to be beef until about 1840, when large numbers of turkeys and geese came into Britain from the continent and became the fashionable meat to have on your Christmas table. A turkey was enough to feed a large family, but turkeys were still very expensive. If the budget wouldn’t stretch to turkey then goose was cheaper, though it was considered a lot tougher than turkey and not such a delicacy. By the end of the nineteenth century turkeys where cheaper and most families could not afford one and replaced the beef and the goose in most households.

Pudding on Christmas Day was always Plum Porridge but this was replaced by the Plum Pudding which became the Christmas pudding we know today. The tradition of putting silver sixpencees into the Christmas pudding seems to be dying out, but it’s on old tradition. Silver coins or tokens were part of a traditional cake made in the eighteenth century called the Twelfth Cake, which was eaten on Twelfth Night. Over the year the silver coins made their way into the new Christmas pudding and Twelfth cake has become our Christmas Cake as the celebration Twelfth Night has all but disappeared.

Mince pies were originally contained minced meat, which is why they’re called mince pies. They were most often made with minced lamb and used to be made into an oval shape as a reminder of the manger that Jesus slept in. Over the years they have become the fruit pies we know today, and which are now eaten al over the world.

One part of our Christmas diet that reminds us of a very old midwinter is the Yule log. Those Swiss Rolls covered in chocolate started out as the centre piece of the Midwinter festival of Yule. Yule was a time of feasting for Northern Europeans even before the birth of Christ. It was time to drink and party and scare away the dark forces of the midwinter night.

Communities would light a fire around the biggest log they could find and watch it burn, bringing light and warmth and good cheer into the darkest part of the year. Right up to the seventeenth century a Yule Log would be brought into the family household to burn in the fireplace for the whole of Christmas Day.

It was the French who first made the Yule Log into a chocolate cake. So now that chocolate Yule Log on the sideboard remains as the last reminder of the earliest midwinter festival that our ancestors celebrated.

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