When we think of Christmas dinner, we think of a huge spread of roasted vegetables, buttered fall harvest delectables, freshly baked rolls and pies, and a beautifully stuffed turkey heading the entire meal – but it wasn’t always this way. Christmas dinner began in Medieval times with goose and venison. If the king approved, even swan could be added to the table. Dessert would typically include Christmas pudding, a way to include dried fruit and berries with readily available ingredients like porridge and eggs. By the Elizabethan Era (1558-1603) sugar was very expensive, which meant it became the highlight of the meal.
It wasn’t until the Victorian Era (1837-1901) that turkey became the centerpiece. They had been brought over by Americans hundreds of years prior, but had never been a table essential because of how expensive they were. However, turkeys quickly became the star of Christmas dinner as they grew in popularity and quantity. These days, turkey is served at over 90% of the holiday spreads in the UK, 50% of American Christmas dinners (88% of Thanksgiving dinners), and 66% of Canadian households!
What do other cultures do for Christmas?
In Sweden, they celebrate the season with a special smörgåsbord called a julbord. Pronounced ‘yuleboard’, this massive meal takes place on December 24th and is a gathering of friends and family to share pickled fish, cold meats, stews, cheese and sweets spread out over a series of tables.
In the Netherlands, individuals gather around a small grill with small utensils to cook together. Small portions of meat, like steak and schnitzels, are cooked on a gourmetten (similar to a fondue set).
But Japan’s tradition is perhaps the most interesting. In 1974, KFC ran an unbelievably successful “Kentucky for Christmas” campaign, and forty years later a bucket of chicken is still a Christmas tradition in Japan, including the Colonel sporting a Santa suit.
Memories are made when gathered around a table.
No matter what’s on the table, every culture celebrates Christmas by sharing food and time with the people that matter to them. Whether it’s huddling over a tiny grill or picking up fried chicken, it’s about who you surround yourself with during the holidays. The pumpkin pie isn’t so bad either!