Why do we eat Turkey at Christmas?

It’s probably a good idea to work out a bit before December rolls round so that you’ll be able to carry home the biggest turkey in the supermarket home with you.

Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a roast turkey; but why do we eat turkey at Christmas?

To answer this, let’s start with another question:

Did we always eat Turkey at Christmas?

No. Christmas Turkey is an English tradition, but turkeys didn’t even exist in the UK until 1526 when William Strickland imported the first turkeys into the country. Before that, on Christmas day, traditional meat dishes were things like geese, peacocks and boars’ head (yum!).

In spite of this, turkeys only overtook goose as the #1 Christmas focal food in the mid-20th century.

Ok… but why turkey *specifically* on Christmas day?

There are a few theories:

Theory 1: To have a special type of meat to mark a special day.

If you eat chicken, or beef, or pork every day of the year, it feels a lot more festive to enjoy a different flavour of meat which you associate as being “Christmassy”. This is also why unusual dishes like peacock and boars’ head were so popular around Christmas back in the 16th century.

Theory 2: Big turkeys can supply the big family get-togethers!

One chicken or goose wouldn’t feed a table of all your favourite 100 relatives or so as they gather around the table. A big turkey is far more likely to go further. And even leaves enough for leftovers!

Theory 3: It became popular after Charles Dickens published “A Christmas Carol”

Dickens advertised the turkey-eating tradition in his famous “A Christmas Carol” which was published in 1843. This may partly explain the rise in turkey consumption specifically in the 20th century, when Christmas turkey sales really took off.

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