A Brief History of Christmas Dinner
A midwinter feast is thought to have taken place in Britain for over 4000 years. A team of archeologists studying approximately 400 pig jaw bones found at Durrington Walls (an ancient construction very near to stonehenge) aged the lifetime of the pigs at around 9 months suggesting they were killed very close to the Winter Solstice. Evidence was found of meat left on the bones, suggesting the feasters were very well fed.
The Romans celebrated Saturnalia at the Winter Solstice, a holiday famous for the slaves being allowed to enjoy the luxuries usually reserved for their masters. Gambling with dice was permitted for all, and instead of white togas or plain dresses people wore bright party clothes. They also exchanged small gifts, often sigillaria (little figures made of wax or pottery), and sung funny songs or performed poems.
In the 4th Century, the Christian church adopted the 12 days of Christmas, a period from the 25th to the 5th of January (the Feast of Epiphany), give or take a day or two. The 1st of January was (at least approximately) the pre-Christian New Year's Day and was called by the Catholic church, the Feast of the Circumcision (Jesus' circumcision which wouls have occurred 8 days after his birth in accordance with Jewish tradition. They did a lot of feasting to make up for the Advent fast (which lasted for 40 days!), where they ate entirely vegan (well, apart from fish) and even consumed almond milk as an alternative to cow's milk.
Lavish feasts put on by the wealthy in medieval times really put anything we do to shame. In 1213 King John took a delivery including: 200 heads of pork, 1000 chickens, 100 lbs of almonds, 2lbs of saffron and 10,000 salted eels, not to mention 24 hogsheads of wine (243 litres each).
Christmas then, has always been a time of great feasting. Last year, my Mum made an amazing white fish and champagne sauce recipe from her mother, similar to this one. Each family, of course, will have their own traditions and recipes (which we would love to hear about if anyone has anything they would be happy to share). The photo beneath is a modern interpretation of a Tudor pie with an amazing design in the crust. Traditionally, they crammed in pork, pheasant, venison, rabbit, onion, garlic, port, mace, allspice, parsley, thyme and, perhaps also boar, or any other animals that happened to pass by. And, on that note,
Merry Christmas, Happy Winter Solstice, Saturnalia and joyful New Year, to one and all!
In Sweden, Twelfth Night is celebrated on January 6 and is known as Thirteenth Day.
The song The Twelve Days Of Christmas was first published in English in 1780 without music.
The actor Robert Baddeley left a £100 bequest when he died in 1794 for a cake to be made for Twelfth Night celebrations at Drury Lane Theatre. The Baddeley Cake is served every year and is now matched to the show running at the theatre. When the theatre was showing Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the cake was a Willy Wonka special. In 2019, it had a 42nd Street theme. In 1888,both Oscar Wilde and Alfred, Lord Tennyson were reported to have attended the Baddeley Cake ceremony.