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What is the history of Christmas Dinner?

The first recorded date of Christmas being celebrated was in 336, during the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine. Not long after, Pope Julius I declared that the birth of Jesus was to be celebrated on the 25th December; from then on Christmas has always been celebrated on the 25th.

On the 25th December, it is guaranteed that most families will have, turkey, Christmas pudding and mince pies on the menu, but it has not always been that way – in fact, in years gone by, the make-up of Christmas dinner was very different indeed. The traditional Christmas dinner features roast turkey with stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce and vegetables such as carrots, turnips and Brussel sprouts. Other types of meat are used such as roast beef or gammon. 

The pudding course of a British Christmas dinner may often be Christmas pudding (plum pudding), which dates from medieval England; this is served, usually with brandy sauce or cream. Triflemince piesChristmas cake, yule log, fruitcake or dried fruit are also popular. In addition, who can forget having the Christmas cracker at the side of your dinner plate?

Prior to the turkey tradition, Christmas dinner included roast swan, pheasants and peacocks. A special treat was a roast boars head decorated with holly and fruit. Native American traders brought turkey to the UK in the 1500s. In the 16th century, a farmer, Thomas Tusser, noted that by 1573 turkeys were commonly served at English Christmas dinners.  

Henry VIII was the first English king to enjoy the recently imported meat. Nevertheless, it was not until trendsetter Prince Albert proclaimed his love for turkey that it became a staple item at Christmas.

The tradition of turkey at Christmas quickly spread throughout England in the 17th Century and it became common to serve goose, which remained the main roast until the Victorian era, but the demand for turkeys was so high that great herds were driven from Languedoc (Spain) to the markets. Merchants in France were shipping turkeys to Dublin, but when bad weather delayed the crossing in 1757, the turkeys had to be regularly wiped with a damp cloth to keep putrefaction at arm’s length. 

It is hard to imagine, but at the beginning of the 19th century Christmas was hardly celebrated, but by the end of the century, it became the biggest yearly celebration and took on the form that we recognise. Many accredit the change to Queen Victoria and her marriage to Prince Albert that introduced some of the most popular aspects of Christmas during the Victorian period, including the dinner we now associate with Christmas. Early Victorian recipes show that mince pies were made from meat and dated back to Tudor times. 

During the World War 2, turkey was not available so the families who could not get it had chicken for Christmas dinner instead, but if chicken was not available, then people had to make do with mutton or rabbit. Other foods now ‘famous’ at Christmas – such as chocolate, fruit, sweets and sherry – were also in short supply due to rationing. The families had to keep spirits high at Christmas, so to do this, many families created fake Christmas food such as turkey, which would have been made from lamb!

When it comes to drinks, there is a variety available. Eggnog; a variation of milk and wine based England punches that date back to at least the 17th century is drank on the 25th December. Others include Bucks Fizz – an orange and champagne mix; the popular cocktail was invented in 1921, a Bellini – a peach and champagne mix or a Kir Royal – a blackcurrant liquor and champagne mix. These are but some of the drinks served traditionally with the Christmas dinner; wine is a popular choice too! 

However, you celebrate Christmas make it special and have a great time!

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