When it comes to Christmas we owe a lot to the Victorians. Until then Christmas wasn’t even a holiday for a lot of businesses. Victoria and Albert introduced things like Christmas trees and Christmas cards, and with a bit of help from Charles Dickens turkey became the centre piece of the Christmas table.
Although Henry VIII was the first English king to enjoy turkey, it was Edward VII who made eating turkey fashionable at Christmas. Prior to this, goose, pheasant, beef, or even more exotic things like swan, peacock or roast boar’s head were the centrepiece of the Christmas dinner. Turkey was a luxury reserved for the wealthy until the 1950’s when it became more widely available. About 10 million turkeys were sold last Christmas, and it is estimated that almost 76% of families in the UK will have roast turkey as the centre piece of their Christmas dinner.
No-one quite know how brussel sprouts came to such prominence on our Christmas menus – it is probably because they are in season at Christmas, and a hardy vegetable that can withstand heavy frost, so likely to be always available. An interesting fact about brussel sprouts is that some people have a gene that causes them to react to the bitterness in brussel sprouts, so if you don’t like sprouts there’s a scientific reason!
The Christmas pudding was originally a porridge called Frumenty, a dish made of wheat or corn boiled up in milk. As time went by other ingredients, such as dried plums or prunes, eggs, and lumps of meat were added to make it more interesting. The Christmas pudding as we know it today took its final form in Victorian England.
A Christmas pudding is traditionally made on the first Sunday of advent, known as ‘Stir-up Sunday’. A proper Christmas pudding is always stirred from East to West in honour of the three Wise Men and traditionally made with 13 ingredients to represent Christ and His Disciples. Every member of the family must give the pudding a stir and make a secret wish.
The practice of including coins in the Christmas pudding was also introduced by the Victorians, although now seldom seen because the coins currently in circulation are unsuitable.
Mince pies should traditionally have a star on top, to represent the Christmas Star which some believe led the shepherds and Magi to the baby Jesus in Bethlehem. Mince pies have been a Christmas tradition since the 16th century. They were originally cradle shaped rather than round, and originally contained quite a bit of shredded meat, hence the name. It was important to add three spices (cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg) for the three gifts given to the Christ child by the Magi. Some mince pie superstitions include eating one mince pie on each of the twelve days of Christmas to ensure good luck for the rest of the year, making a wish when eating one’s first mince pie of the festive season, always eating mince pies in silence, and never cutting a mince pie with a knife.
Whatever you do for Christmas dinner, we wish you a happy and peaceful Christmas.