Why Do We Eat Turkey at Christmas?

It's Christmas day. The presents have been opened, the family has gathered, the lights on the tree are twinkling and it's time for lunch. For most of us, Christmas lunch means one thing: Roast Christmas turkey, stuffing, roast potatoes, cranberry sauce, bread sauce and vegetables, all rounded off with lashings of gravy.

Buy why do we eat turkey for Christmas? Well, before turkey became the fowl of choice on our Christmas tables, goose, swan or venison were the meats of choice that people tucked in to. (Occasionally they would also eat boar's head or peacock).

Christmas turkey is an English tradition and it was not until the 16th Century that turkeys were introduced to the UK. (Some people say the first turkeys came from Spain, while others say the USA was where they first came from).

The turkey meat was a new experience for the English, who loved the white meat and delicate taste. Christmas Turkey on the table was mentioned by Charles Dickens in his book, 'A Chistmas Carol' in 1843, and it grew in popularity from that point. However, Christmas turkey did not really become commonplace on the Christmas table until the mid 1900's. (Before that, people could not afford to eat meat regularly, meaning that it was only on those special occasions that something as luxurious as a whole turkey could be enjoyed.) Chicken had become more popular in the preceding years (before the first and second world wars came along and with them rationing and food shortages), but feeding a large family on one chicken was difficult. A Christmas turkey, however, was able to feed the entire family with enough leftovers for meals for a few days afterwards. Back then, every part of the bird would be put to good use in the days after Christmas, making risottos, casseroles, and soups and stocks from the bones and scraps.

These days, in England, the popularity of Christmas turkey seems to be on the decline, with people finding turkey can all too often be dry in texture. They are instead reverting back to goose, dabbling with duck, or indulging in a free range chicken, or recreating ancient 'bird in bird' recipes, where a Christmas turkey is stuffed with a duck, which is stuffed with a poussin or a small chicken. Many people also choose good quality aged beef, or a Beef Wellington (beef wrapped in pate, mushrooms and pastry) as an alternative Christmas Day dinner.

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