Even today I look forward to Christmas with the hope and expectation of that 11-year-old child I was once. But I have now understood that Christmas is more than just a ritual, it’s a feeling… Actually, the beauty of the festival is not so much in the Christmas Day but the build up to it. In fact, the traditional Christmas is not a single day but a prolonged period, normally from December 24 to January 6 (yes, 14-days of feasting and includes the New Year!) and the preparation and the frills alongside, all go hand in hand to create that special ‘Christmasy’ feeling. Food, of course, is a big part of it all. The very word Christmas was coined by the combination of Christ+Mass. Originally a feast of Nativity, it was the mass, which was held to celebrate the birth of Christ Jesus ‘the Son of God.’
Over the years, I have also graduated beyond my obsession with just the cake and realized that while classic Christmas cake is and will always be the centre piece of teatime, this festival of cheer is made of a lot more… and signifies an abundance of meals. Traditional Christmas food besides the cake includes mince pies, pudding, turkey and more. Let’s figure them out one by one.
Meat has always been part of a traditional Christmas feast. The act of serving a large roasted joint of meat at Christmas probably originated from ancient sacrificial rites to mollify the gods to ensure a good harvest in the following year. Earlier beef, mutton, pork, peacocks and swans were usually used. King James-I introduced turkey during the seventeenth century as he felt that it was kinder to his delicate digestive system! Today those who cannot afford the turkey make do with goose.
The shape and content of mince pies has changed dramatically through the ages. Original ones were bigger, crib shaped and packed full with meat – usually a mixture of finely chopped poultry, pheasant, partridge and rabbit. The rich and fruity pies with sugar, apples, raisins and candied oranges and lemons that we now have, came much later and were apparently made-up in the twentieth century.
In the medieval period, plum pottage – a meat broth that had breadcrumbs and dried fruit added for thickening purposes, seasoned with wine and spices, was served during festivities. With time, this broth gave way to a thicker pudding. By the 17th Century, the meat content was removed and more sweets were added and it took the shape of the now popular plum pudding.
By the end of the 18th century, plum porridge had all but vanished, its place taken by the plum pudding and it was christened Christmas pudding when it was introduced to the Royal Christmas dinner table by Prince Albert. It is usually prepared on Christmas morning, and sprinkled with brandy and flamed when served.
There are many other still popular traditional dishes too like gingerbread, pumpkin and walnut pie, eggnog, fruit cake, potato salad with mayonnaise, smoked salmon, chocolate yule log, Yorkshire pie, pigs in a blanket (sausage wrapped in bacon), qidreh, a wood-fire oven cooked lamb and rice dish (popular in Israel) and more such. So do tuck into some traditional Christmas fare this year, like I make sure I do every year, and support the spirit of Christmas. It’s, after all, a special time to look forward to a miracle.
And yes, keep believing in hope and all things positive.
Happy Christmas and New Year!
Kavita Devgan is a Nutritionist, Weight Management Consultant and Health Writer based in Delhi. She contributes to the column Kavita’s Korner every Wednesday for this blog.
Follow her on Twitter here: @kavitadevgan