Iyears uncertain, there is much to be said about Christmas traditions. Tastes and smells, like familiar tunes, can instantly take you back to childhood. Food matters, especially at Christmas – and tradition is part of the reason it packs such a punch.
Let’s start at the bottom. No more white sugar mice and sugary cigarettes, replaced by gummy bears and chocolate reindeer poo. But it’s good to know that the traditional tangerine – usually left to rot under the bed – still has a place for my own children. The chocolate pieces remain. The story goes that three sisters unable to pay a dowry were ordered to be sold in loveless marriages. Wishing to keep his donation anonymous and inspired to take action, 4th-century Saint Nicholas secretly dropped coins into the fireplace in stockings they had left to dry by the fire. I’m not sure anyone knows how it turned out with the girls, but it’s clearly a colossal failure for St Nick’s wish to remain anonymous.
Now at dinner. There is a year-end obsession with eating foods that are supposed to bring prosperity. Steal a coin-like silver scale from your carp on Christmas Eve, place it in your wallet, and there it will spur other moneys to join it. Luckier still are lentils that look like piles of pennies, while green vegetables are a symbol of wealth and good luck in almost every culture. There are the six pence added to the Christmas pudding dough, which, provided you don’t break a tooth, should bring good fortune for the coming year. In fact, Christmas pudding is probably the oldest of modern traditions. Start in medieval times as a little appetizing porridge of meat, spices and fruits, over the years, it has been banned, reinstated, immortalized by Charles Dickens and burned down repeatedly.
Christmas traditions – as with pud – are constantly changing, especially as families merge. Recognizing all faiths, dietary requirements, and TV programming preferences can be a business. So-called rational adults will suddenly become hysterical because the sauce is not in the special Christmas pot, while the smallest of the changes has ripple effects. A menu swap for beef means there are no bones for the turkey soup. Think about the sacrifice turkeys made to get to your plate. Back then, farmers took poultry from Norfolk to London: to protect their feet on the 100 mile trek, they made leather bird shoes. It was noticeably harder to coax a goose into wearing these shoes, so their feet were rather soaked in tar and feathers – and the phrase “shoeing a goose” was born, marking a futile task.
These days we are generally more picky about the way our food arrives on our plate. But for those who can’t be bothered by the faff, a pandemic-born solution just might change Christmas dinner forever. Home Meal Kits are available for every party menu imaginable and encompass all dietary requirements, crafted by top chefs with fresh, local ingredients and delivered right to your doorstep. Just put it in the oven and watch YouTube for plating instructions. If you go for an in-home deli basket, you don’t even have to. Granted, they can be a bit expensive; from Â£ 20 for a thin pie kit to several hundred pounds for a seafood extravaganza.
Truth be told, I would miss vacation cooking. The smell of oranges sprinkled with cloves, ready for mulled wine, the sight of gingerbread houses askew with flowing icing glue. There are, of course, traditions that are really worth losing. Being force-fed 12 pies to ensure a year of happy months – a watered-down superstition that dates back to the early 1800s, when pies could only be eaten during 12 days of Christmas and, to the greatest of luck, , one each in 12 different houses. Then there is the headache-causing buck fizzing that my mom insists we drink on Christmas morning. Originally created in 1921 at the Buck’s Club in London, the buck’s fizz is traditionally made up of one part orange juice to three parts champagne; for some unfathomable reason it suddenly became a hit in the 1980s and is still around today.
The last tradition to note is New Year’s Eve. Here the haggis deserves a mention. Sausages with offal were prized by Vikings and Romans – even a companion of Socrates raved about a delicious feast of bladder stuffed with offal. Made with lamb entrails, onions, oatmeal, and spices, it’s not exactly plant-based. But it is quite trendy to eat nose to tail. Throw tradition to the wind and fry yours in butter before drizzling with whiskey. Add neeps, tatties and some bagrock, and you are ready for the year to come.