The bling of festivals is always unmissable, no matter what part of the world you are from or in which exotic locale you dwell, celebrations of any kind encompass a universal theme. Whether it be stemming of a religious or spiritual observance or shapes up instead as an occasion of cultural celebration or historic commemoration, festivals are always mass affairs in togetherness, of such rituals and customs and traditions that are as indulgent in their nature as they tend to be solemn. And one of the most indulgent elements of any such carousing in all fanfare and revelry even in their most traditional expression happens to be what ladens the table holding all the goodies of that simple or lavish but customary still feast that characterise just about any celebration as part of its very nature.
And while food is central to all festivals and events, sought to cater to the coming together of families in celebration as well as to offer oneself as the most gracious of hosts to guests ushering in of the holiday vibe, which entails indeed therefore a generous spread of classics and favorites to nestle side by side along the length of the dining table, there always would be one customary serving of a staple without which the spirit of the festival is only half rejoiced in. Perhaps among the most popular of global celebrations that transcends the religious essence and cultural basis of its being to emerge also as as much an occasion steeped in fun and enjoyment is the merrymaking of the Christmas carousel that grips the world in all yuletide and excitement. And associated with this very revered indeed festival that celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ in a globally secular manner is a certain extensive spread of deliciousness, each pertaining to the spirit of it in its own unique distinction. The plum cake stands out indeed in all its rich and luscious version of a delicacy anyway incorporating of the festive vibes as does the eggnog that indeed profess the cosy cheer Christmas is so characteristic of. Sweets and meats and wine and drinks characterise the customary Christmas meal everywhere but one particular dish that simply cannot be done away with at the most traditional of Christmas celebrations, and partaken of also as religiously in contemporary observances owing both to tradition as well as to taste happens to be a particularly meaty offering. Turkey meat is what essentially sums up the cultural significance of Christmas but just how and why this particular bird came to be associated with this certain festival of immense goodwill and joy proves to be as stimulating fodder for thought.
Despite its more than exalted reputation as being one of the staples of the meal typically enjoyed at Christmastime by many a people of the world, the Turkey isn’t particularly the recipe for a dish evoking of Christmas in its spirit. In fact, it has been only as recently as the 20th century that the bird came to gain a place of its own as part of the festive spread, dethroning its predecessor of the goose. Interestingly, before that point in time when it became all the craze of sumptuousness specifically pertaining to celebratory smacks of Christmas, turkeys were more than commonplace enough to be feasted upon throughout the year. Not any special therefore had been the bird of now immense deliciousness that owes its now esteemed place in festive tradition to King Henry VIII, who took a special liking to this exotic taste and began to explore this meaty bird in all its scope of the gastronomic soon thereafter.
This development of sorts centering around the turkey’s to be prominent presence along the explorations of Christmassy dimensions might have been initiated as early as in the 15th century but it wouldn’t be at least some couple of centuries later that it would be established into being the indispensable X mas tradition that it is today. This reference to tradition specifically alludes to the realm of the British celebrations of Christmas and as the turkey made its way into the UK from its native American home in Mexico, it took its own sweet time ‘in walking’ to carve out its own niche in the furrows of folklore of a foreign land, asserting its might first across the choices of the wealthy before assuming more mainstream popularity. From the 1500s onwards, the turkey became an emerging prospect to feast upon at Christmas for the upper class Brits. And the reason why they managed to present themselves as almost luxury options catering to the fancies of the rich was their expensive way of ‘travelling’. With birds like turkeys and geese not yet accorded the route of the rail, they had to be instead walked for days and weeks at end from the farms to the markets, with feet dipped in tar to act like ‘feet tires’ to stop them getting sore! This exclusivity therefore meant that turkeys would be pricey enough to confine them to being particularly affluent charting of celebrations.
Turkeys came to tread the trails of British royalty in all prominence in the 1850s spacing out the till then staple choice of swans but even before the monarchy had made its preference clear, after Henry VIII’s initiating feast of course, the now prominent enough bird had already come to enjoy popularity along other coursings of the British echelons. Particularly with celebrated writer Charles Dickens who made his classic character of the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge in his 1843 novel A Christmas Carol partake of the Christmas spirit with the bigger and more important turkey on offer, the turkey had already been endowed as important enough a place in the popular psyche. Dickens though did not further his inordinate fondness for turkeys merely along his world of fiction but intended to make the bird indeed part of his real life family feast that very year. That this particular whim of the author did not come to be as intended owing to the gargantuan 30 pound turkey carcass being unfortunately destroyed in transit by a fire is a different tragedy altogether, but still one that Dickens’ forever recounted in good humor owing to the charred remains of the bird ‘meatying’ up instead the Christmas meal of many an impoverished families. In that accord therefore, Charles Dickens’ indeed might have ended up endowing upon the turkey the very poignant Christmas spirit of sharing and goodwill, even though unintentionally. Aptly credited therefore with popularising this choice of meat as a Christmas classic, Dickens though still would not come to impart the turkey with its even more prominent legacy across the Christmas table.
Owing to its still expensive enough reputation, turkeys were largely outdone by the geese or even the chickens when it came to dictating the food traditions of the masses. It wouldn’t be until the middle years of the 20th century that the now obligatory presence on the Christmas menu began to gain more common ground when advances in food production as well as the ease of transportation ranked them on the lower rungs of the price tally and therefore shot them up on the scale of affordability. This post World War mileage that the turkey gained would not however be only a phenomenon exclusive to Britain, as many other countries too took to fancying the turkey over the traditional favorites. Be it Iceland or Ireland, many a countries of the Americas, as well as Portugal and the Netherlands, Lebanon and the Philippines and Denmark, turkeys are today widely relished across the course of the customarily grand Christmas meal, albeit in different modes of preparation. Interestingly though, as the turkey took a flight of greater measure by being convenient enough for all and sundry to partake of its sumptuousness, the wealthy elite who had only so recently favoured the exotic identity of its meaty deliciousness began to shun it due to this more than commonplace dishing of it across all Christmas meals.
Notwithstanding its almost falling out of favor from the rich plates, the turkey has continued its intricate association with Christmas celebrations and even as part of Thanksgiving traditions, displaying ample evidence of its versatility in lending itself to such preparations that are as varied as can be. Roasted and stuffed whole turkeys undoubtedly is the way to go to put up a centerpoint attraction on the heavily stacked Christmas table overflowing with meats and drinks and of course desserts and hot beverages asserting that winter time charm in which the magic of Christmas touches down upon the world in all graciousness and cheer. Other equally delectable modes of devouring the turkey tradition occurs in such manifestations of grilling and baking the whole bird, with sides served in as many ways as can be fancied. Winter veggies including roast potatoes, Brussels sprouts, and parsnips are the most common accompaniments preferred by the Brits even as condiments like cranberry sauce and/ or bread sauce further elevate the flavor of these ‘greater fowls’. First recorded in writing in 1541 as far as the British context is concerned, turkeys were opted for by Archbishop Thomas Cramner to serve rather amusing a purpose. As a means to curb gluttony by serving just one choice of meat, Cramner pounced upon the humongous turkey premise that hoarded the provision of greater meat to effectively suit his reformation agenda. It sure would still be centuries hence that turkeys would serve appetites in as greater measure as well, but between all these dichotomies of propriety and status to epicurean explorations and amassing affordability, the turkey offered itself as the tradition across which the culinary chimes of Christmas would come to command greater globality. In indeed its larger than life manifestation, the turkey is today an integral image of what sets the Christmas meal apart from any of its contending celebratory counterparts the world over.