Christmas dinner - JL26014

The Challenge of Making Holiday Meals Special

In the past, traditional meals to celebrate major festivals such as Christmas or Thanksgiving were once a year events. Everyone looked forward to them all year and made a real effort to make them special.

In the past, the fine meat of birds such as goose, turkey or even chicken was beyond the means of ordinary families. Until the second half of the twentieth century, many families would not be able to afford meat every day except perhaps the cheaper cuts suitable for stews and other slow cooking.  So they had to save for the celebration meal; its rarity, once, perhaps twice a year, made it a very special treat.

In Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes story, The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle the crop of a living goose is used to hide the stolen blue gemstone. The goose is mixed up with a flock of birds to be distributed amongst the members of a Goose Club. The members paid a few pence each week to ensure they had a fine bird to celebrate Christmas. Similar Christmas Clubs still exist in the United Kingdom where members put a small amount aside each week to make sure they can afford to make Christmas special.

With increased affluence, food has become a much smaller part of most families' expenditure and for many, roast dinners have become routine weekend, even weekday, fare. As a result, the big celebration meals based on a fine bird or a surfeit of roast meat are now little more than over-indulgent versions of the everyday Sunday lunch. Indeed, turkey and chicken are now commonly available and eaten all the year round, even mid-week, so they are not the special treat they once were.

At_Elizabeth_Davids_Table_CoverMore frequent eating out also makes the traditional dinner and its trimmings seem rather ordinary. For many people fine dining has taken away the cachet of an essentially straightforward roast dinner. The carefully styled food of the restaurant has become many people's idea of a special meal; a style of food that is difficult and time consuming to achieve in a domestic kitchen. Surprisingly perhaps, even such fine meals are not always memorable.  However, some aspects of that fine dining experience does creep into the traditional celebration but the roast turkey still remains the core of the holiday meal for most.

We should remember there are many people for whom the over-indulgence of the traditional celebration dinner is still an unachievable dream; if they are lucky it may be a traditional once a year event.. Even in the affluent developed world, there are people and families for whom it is a struggle to get enough to eat every day let alone to enjoy the excesses of traditional holiday dinners.

So how can one make the Christmas or Thanksgiving meal special and not merely an exercise in over-indulgence? Probably, the truest celebration of Christmas or Thanksgiving is the sharing of a meal with loved ones.  In reality for most people, the celebratory nature comes not from the meal but from the social pleasure of shared food.  The food then is relatively unimportant as long as the meal is enjoyed with close friends and family.

Perhaps then, it would be a real celebration of the season to extend that shared pleasure. Many people will have neighbours who would otherwise spend the holiday alone. For such people it would be just another lonely day. Or, is there an acquaintance who cannot afford to celebrate the holiday? Inviting them to share the meal, now that would really be the way to create a celebration in the spirit of the season.

Food for thought?

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