It’s coming people, and you can’t do anything about it – that’s right, The Christmas Day family gathering is almost upon us. The whole tribe will gather for the obligatory, once a year festive feast, and we’ll all pretend to love one another unreservedly. We quietly beg that nobody mentions the secret Santa mix up of two years ago when inappropriate uncle Kevin gifted nine-year-old Sarah, a blow-up sex doll – the shock of which caused Nana Edith to shoot cranberry sauce out of her nose – an incident that was almost certainly the trigger for her yuletide-al wave of incontinence. Dad will excavate the ancient box of Christmas decorations from the shed, which, by today’s standards of both manufacturing and good taste, would be classified as extremely hazardous. In a festive feat of circus-like contortion, we will all, somehow, squeeze around mum’s extendable table and the same conversation will be dished up that we always dine on. For starters we discuss who has died, with an entrée of ‘who is currently dying’, and for dessert – who we all wish would hurry up and die already.
Okay, festering, forced Yuletide in my house aside, what will Christmas Dinner look like in your home? Popular media will have you believe that every home enjoys a glistening, golden turkey, the size of a miniature pony, every conceivable vegetable known to humankind, two types of stuffing and a blazing Christmas pudding. Naturally, all of this will be plated with restaurant quality savoir-faire, on matching elegant crockery (not an emergency plate with a chip or a crack in it in sight), laid at a gorgeous table that effortlessly seats sixteen, in a house that looks like it was plucked from the Fortnum and Mason winter catalogue.
In reality, if you live in the average U.K city, there are approximately 270 different nationalities, speaking 300 different languages, and not everybody fits the media purported, 2.4 children family unit, of Christian faith, or even a meat eater. The melting pot of culture living on your street may be fantastically varied, but one thing unites us all, and that’s a deep, glutinous love of stuffing our faces until we lay on the floor, groaning in food-induced “hors de combat”.
Here’s a little rundown of the options you may not yet have considered, from a meatless feast to eggnog in a coconut!
I was born here, so it’s a natural destination from which to launch. ‘Weihnachtsgans’ or German Christmas goose is the preferred bird to anchor family feasts throughout Deutschland, although roast duck is becoming increasingly popular with our Germanic brethren. The vegetable accoutrements remain similar to those most of us recognise on our festive British plate. One tradition which garnered particular favour with me as a child, is the exchange of our gifts on Christmas Eve, rather than Christmas Day. Show me a kid anywhere who is going to argue with that.
In Sweden, the focus is ‘more is more’. The Christmas Table or ‘Julbord’ consists typically of a boiled Christmas ham, glazed in mustard and coated in breadcrumbs. Remember how your mum banged on about the bread and dripping she ate as a kid? Well, it’s very much a Christmas tradition in Sweden. ‘Doppi grytan’ translated as ‘Dipping The Kettle’, involves dunking hunks of bread in the fatty ham broth. A selection of boiled whitefish, smoked, cured and pickled meats and cabbage, flavoured with sweet, dark syrup follows, and all of this gets washed down with lashings of Glögg (mulled wine).
Now, we’ve all defrosted the turkey, only to realise that it’s just too big to squeeze in a domestic oven, but once it’s in, you can pretty much forget about it until you hear the melodic ‘ting’ of the oven timer announcing a readiness to overeat. You don’t get away with it that easily in Puerto Rico. The national dish, ‘Lechón’, a roast suckling pig, requires the constant attention of at least a couple of festive cooks, as it slowly turns on an outside spit from around 2am on the morning of the big day. Does the idea of standing there, slowly cranking the handle of the spit for hours put you off? How about passing the time, enjoying the Puerto Rican spin on eggnog, ‘Coquito’ – made with condensed milk, coconut milk, and a hearty dash of rum – all served up in half a coconut shell.
We have a vast and gorgeous contingent of Polish folk living in Cheshire and Wrexham, so I’d be jolly remiss not to give their dumplings some attention. Pierogi, stuffed with either mashed potatoes, cottage cheese or sauerkraut, forms the traditional holiday treat of choice in Poland. Meat-eaters might want to take note that tucking into Christmas pierogi won’t win you the prize of pork or beef anytime soon. It’s forbidden to eat meat at ‘Wieczerza Wigilijna’ (Christmas dinner). With many observant Catholics in Poland, Christmas Day shares a lot of the dietary restrictions practised during Lent. If you can’t wait to visit Poland or even get invited by a local Polish chum for a festive dumpling, then why not pop on down to our very own Pierogi venue here in Chester.
Finally, we shouldn’t leave out those heroes in the emergency services who give up their Christmas Day to make sure we’re all safe. Here to make sure we don’t die when Uncle Trevor, drunk on a fraction too much after dinner port, takes a leak on the Christmas tree and turns the twinkly lights into a deadly firework. In thanks, we give you the ‘Hot Can’ – Christmas Dinner in a can.
This is a self-heating Yuletide meal, which, without the need of a microwave or a kettle heats itself in just 12 minutes, via a safe exothermic reaction. I assume this is the same magic that makes Rudolph fly? It’s manufacturers reward you with a “hot and steamy” turkey casserole, and they admit that it “won’t be awarded any Michelin stars”, but they do claim that “it’s up there with your respectable ready meals”
You’re not selling it guys – even at £5.99 per can. Hey, listen, if you’re thinking about buying one of these, just come over to mine for dinner instead. It doesn’t matter who you are, or what time you arrive – just know that by about 3pm, my brain will be powered entirely by Puerto Rican egg-nog, and I may ask you to dance!