Posted by on 19 December 2011 in General

On Friday evening my husband and I found ourselves watching the BBC’s ‘Stuffed: The Great British Christmas Dinner’ – a wonderful documentary looking at how our much-loved Christmas meal came to be what it is today.

For the first time ever my husband and I will be spending Christmas just the two of us this year as our respective families are spread across the globe. My mother recently emigrated to Peru, my father to South Africa and my sister to the windy city that is Chicago.  My husband’s family have decided to enjoy it with other members of the family in Australia and France. We are undoubtedly a truly cosmopolitan family but I can’t deny that I’m anticipating a little sadness when we sit down and tuck into our Christmas dinner this year without them (some pictured below).

However, onwards and upwards! My husband and I recently started pulling our Christmas food list together last week. Smoked salmon, capers, turkey, stuffing (recipe courtesy of Gordon Ramsay), cranberry sauce (thank you Waitrose), carrots, parsnips, peas, maris piper potatoes – the list goes on, and on and on. We are determined not to let the absence of our loved ones this year impact our beloved Christmas meal, the content nor the amount!

The programme on Friday looked at how the Christmas meal has evolved through the ages.  Interestingly, the Christmas meal as we know it, along with other prominent festive traditions, is believed to have been introduced following Queen Victoria’s marriage to German-born Prince Albert. The Illustrated London News published a drawing of the royal family in 1848 where they were sitting around a decorated tree, a tradition reminiscent of Prince Albert’s childhood in Germany.  This sparked a roll-out of decorated trees in homes across Britain, adorned with an array of symbols we have come to associate with Christmas, including fruit, confectionary, candles, homemade decorations and small gifts.

In fact they even mention Isabella Beeton who was the 19th century’s Delia Smith.  Her Book of Household Management, which we have on our website, became the must-have guide to over 900 recipes. I’ve searched for some Christmas ones but haven’t found any yet so if you manage, then please do let us know and either share here under this post or let us know on our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/AncestryUK.

Like so many traditions, both festive and non, the roast turkey’s not-so-humble beginnings also started out in Victorian Britain. Before then other roasted meats, including goose and beef, formed the centrepiece of the Christmas dinner.  The turkey was added in the 19th century by the wealthier members of the community but its size meant that it was ideal for a family gathering.  By the turn of the century it had become the meat of choice for most families. 

Understanding the history behind our quintessential British Christmas meal means that we can feel that little bit closer to it and imagine our predecessors sitting down to tuck into theirs – in many cases to the same food. The succulent turkey, the tangy cranberry saunce, the glazed parsnips and the sweet mince pies.

I found the BBC’s ‘Stuffed: The Great British Christmas Dinner’ on BBC iPlayer so if you have a free moment amidst your Christmas preparations then have a watch to discover a little bit more about our favourite meal.  It’s well worth a watch and will help get you fired up for cooking this year’s feast!