Although this English author is very excited to spend my first Christmas here in Houston and enjoy all the festive fare of the season, I still have fond memories of my native Christmas food. As in the States, not everyone sticks with the traditions, but many families will prepare the "typical English Christmas dinner" and partake either before or after watching the Queen's speech on the BBC, then fall asleep on the couch with mince pies and a box of chocolates. Oh, and plenty of wine, sherry or other tipple.
So what exactly do we eat on Christmas Day? Well first of all, for breakfast or brunch, there might be something special like smoked salmon and scrambled eggs, something filling since the "dinner" often isn't served until the mi- or late afternoon and energy is required to unwrap the gifts Santa left during the night.
For the main meal, there will be some kind of appetizer, perhaps shrimp cocktail or chicken liver pâté with Melba toast. The main course is usually a roasted turkey (thanks, America!) but might also be another meat such as chicken, goose or duck. Popular side dishes include roasted and/or mashed potatoes, sage-and-onion stuffing, honey-roasted carrots, Brussels sprouts, spiced red cabbage, roasted chestnuts, brown gravy, bread sauce, bacon-wrapped mini sausages and cranberry sauce.
Time for Something Sweet
The final course will be a Christmas pudding (don't forget, "pudding" means "dessert" in England), a rich and heavy steamed fruit pudding, paired with brandy butter or brandy sauce. Sixpence pieces used to be hidden in the pudding, but these days it's more likely to be a 50p or a pound coin (or none of those if the Christmas pudding is microwaved). Other options include plum pudding or sherry trifle. The following day, which we call Boxing Day, is when all the leftovers come out, and just like Americans post-Thanksgiving, Brits will be eating turkey all week (at least!) in some form or other.
More English Christmas Traditions
Poultry traditions know no borders: Splitting a wishbone is common in England, too. Just as in the U.S., two people will pull on each end of the little Y-shaped bone, and whoever gets the larger piece makes a wish.
We also have Christmas crackers, which are brightly colored paper tubes with chemical card strips inside that pop when the cracker is pulled. Whoever gets the larger part of the cracker gets what's inside—usually be a paper crown, a joke and a little toy or trinket. Sometimes the cracker goes to whoever had it, as long as everyone gets one. The more expensive the crackers, the better quality the gifts inside will be.
Culinary Christmas History
The British Christmas dinner has certainly evolved over the ages. Boar was a popular Christmas meat in medieval times. It lost its popularity to the goose or capon that became the festive meats of choice from the 1500s until the 1700s. It was then that King Henry VIII enjoyed turkey and everyone who could afford the giant American fowl followed suit. Goose was more popular than turkey until Victorian times, when the wealth of the Industrial Revolution allowed turkey to take over.
Modern Christmas pudding has evolved from plum pudding, a sweet festive staple made from suet in medieval England. But these days, mince pies and Yule logs are also popular additions to the Christmas dinner spread. No two Christmas dinners are quite the same, since every household has their own family traditions, but chances are, few Houstonians will be putting in the longterm effort to craft a traditional British Christmas pudding.