The Ghost of Christmas Past – Christmas Dinner

xmas dinner
Photo by Amelie & Niklas Ohlrogge on Unsplash

The highlight of Christmas Day in the UK (after the seasonal TV ‘special’ Stars In Their Eyes, featuring pets of the rich and famous, and Susan Boyle singing a novelty version of ‘We Three Kings’ especially written for her by Richard Stilgoe) is the Great British Christmas Dinner, and it is this repast upon which this piece will focus as, to be brutally honest, I simply do not know what is eaten elsewhere in the world, although I would be delighted to hear, should anyone wish to fill me in.

The traditional Christmas Dinner contains sufficient calories to see the average Blue Whale through the winter, but it does not usually begin with any form of appetizer as most celebrants are already stuffed to the gills with candied fruit, chocolate covered nuts, mince pies, sausage rolls, buck’s fizz, cream sherry, glacé cherries and eggnog by the time they sit to eat. It is entirely normal for over-imbibed members of the family to have to be woken in order to be brought to the table, whereupon they immediately fall asleep in the chestnut stuffing and dribble gently into the gravy.

At this early stage, instead of eating, the Christmas crackers are usually pulled. The ‘crack’ associated with these sparkly seasonal tubes will inevitably make the babies scream and the elderly momentarily lose control of their bladders. Disagreements over the ‘prizes’ in the crackers, and whose flew where, may persist well into the New Year. The wise host will have a carrier bag full of crap with which to pacify the disaffected. The contents of the cracker usually consists of a paper crown which splits into two as soon as you attempt to put it on your head; a plastic novelty that flies across the room, ricochets from head and ornament before settling somewhere unseen, where it remains lost until a week later when it is sucked up with 3cwt of pine-needles and a half-eaten coffee-cream which jams the Hoover, having smeared itself over a six foot strip of mushroom shagpile. Finally, there is a joke, written, I believe, by a robot in Taiwan, which proves beyond doubt that there will never be an AI comedian. Never-the-less, it is not considered good manners to begin the meal until everybody has had the opportunity to read out their joke – even if a packing malfunction at the factory has resulted in everybody having the same one.

The traditional ‘bird’ of Christmas Dinner is, I think the goose, but this has now been firmly superseded by the turkey, due largely to its greater post-Christmas adaptability in sandwich, curry and rissole. Henry the Eighth, it is said, was the first person to eat Christmas turkey in the UK and, looking at some of the sandwiches in the shops around this time of the year, the same bird is still doing the rounds. It is traditional to concur, when taking one’s first mouthful, that it is a bit dry and ask for more gravy. As a non-meat eater, I will traditionally be asked at this point if I would like some ham.
Christmas Dinner is, in effect, a standard Sunday Roast with knobs on, separated from ‘the normal’ by volume and accoutrement:
• Brussel Sprouts are, for many people, a once-a-year veg. Traditionally boiled for approximately three weeks before the day and hidden under the table during the meal.
• Bread Sauce – follows the English tradition of taking something relatively bland and stodgy and transforming it into something even blander and stodgier.
• Pigs in Blankets – pork sausage wrapped in bacon (so, more correctly Pigs in Pig, I would argue) presents the UK diner with the unique opportunity to accompany a meal with the sensation of inadvertently driving a cocktail stick through the hard palate and into the nasal cavity.
• Cranberry Sauce – this is most un-British, like having gravy on your pudding. Tolerated only on this one day of the year. For the rest of the year such gastronomic eccentricities are left to the French.
• Wine, both red and white may be served. Grandma, robbed of her mug of tea, will reluctantly agree to have a glass of port and lemonade (‘More lemonade than port, please. Well, perhaps just a splash more port…’), before falling to sleep and coughing her false teeth into the mash.

After the meal has been eaten, the plates have been cleared and the worst of it mopped off grandad’s shirt, comes the Christmas Pudding: the densest duff since Cnut. The glistening globe is placed, steaming, in the centre of the table before being doused in brandy and set alight, to shrieks of admiration from everyone around the table, except for grandma who has woken to find her hairpiece is on fire. The brandy soaked pudding is usually served with brandy butter, brandy sauce and brandy – or perhaps that’s just our house. In the past, the pudding would contain a silver sixpence, which the lucky finder would use to get their teeth fixed.

Only the hardiest of souls, and those desperate to avoid the washing up, will attempt to tackle the cheese and biscuits after all of this. Those wishing to have a cigar will be sent to the bottom of the garden as the smell makes Auntie Vera nauseous. Unfortunately, the bottom of the garden contains a compost heap that makes the smokers nauseous.

When the traditional moaning about who always gets landed with the washing up has subsided everyone settles down for an afternoon doze.

The first to wake opens the window and lets it out.

Originally posted 21st December 2019.

20 thoughts on “The Ghost of Christmas Past – Christmas Dinner

  1. Well writ. It kinda sounds like Christmush. Here it’s a barbecue, brandy laden trifle, cold beers, apple and onion salad, chilled sparkling wine, hot- well, smoked or flaming if I’m at the grill- sausages sizzling on paper plates, a beer or two or three or more, a toast in leftover brandy and then comatose family members snoring away under a blazing sun, or some lucky souls, under the apple tree. Only the brave few stagger indoors to the sofa where Uncle Worzel sprawls, cider gently dribbling from lip, and if you’re unlucky, on the new sofa.
    Uncle Worzel is notorious/famous for being unshakeably unwakeable and his rumblingly discontented digestion. You have to be in desperate need to get to a comfort station to put up with passing through Uncle Worzels Fugging Christmas atmosphere.
    ( My wife, looking over my shoulder, adds that we are lucky in 2020 to be able to gather together for Christmas as per normal, Uncle Worzel and all. So we’re counting our blessings at Christmas!)

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    1. Yes. It would be nice for everyone to be able to get together here, but not to be this year unfortunately – uncle worzel sounds fun – although you’d best not leave him too near the barbecue!

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      1. As I say we count ourselves fortunate this year. And you’re right about Uncle Worzel and the barbecue. One bright spark and our old Uncle Worzel, so steeped in… history, would be gone up in a flash.

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  2. It’s been our pleasure to deliberately partake in beans on toast each 25th December for the last few years now. It’s been so stress free and I would recommend it to anyone. Seriously letting there really be peace on Earth, with no sentient being getting harmed. 🦃

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    1. I love beans on toast. Unfortunately they come only second to Spaghetti and passata in the list of ‘foodstuffs I can dribble down myself’. We normally have them on the twenty seventh after everybody else has gone home…

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      1. Finished my shift today and got to be able to pop into Tescopoly, where I’ve gone up market buying a Mushroom & Meat Free Stuffing Lattice of all things. Amazing what things are out there for vegans these days, but you cannot beat beans on toast or tin tomatoes on toast.

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  3. I know being a non-meat eater in a meat-eater family can be rather pressing…I joined my husband’s family five years back as an absolute vegetarian. Now I eat Chicken, Mutton, Beef…mind you I still prefer a bottle gourd to meat. My mom in law still can’t understand

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