The festival of Christmas in the UK is widely thought to have started around 596 AD when St Augustine landed in England and established Christianity. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that the date of 25 December was based more on the ancient pagan festival of Saturnalia1 which had been celebrated by the Romans. The early Christians, rather than disclaiming this pagan festival, engineered a compromise and re-named the day Christ Mass to celebrate the birth of Jesus. This Holy Day was decreed to be celebrated on 25 December by Bishop Julius I of Rome in 350 AD. The earliest record of Christmas being celebrated in England, however, only dates back to 1043.
The Celtic culture of revering green plants led to the use of holly and mistletoe to decorate homes and churches, and the pagan ritual of fire and rebirth crept in under the guise of the yule log. During the Middle Ages the carol was born and incorporated into the festivities. The main fayre of the Christmas meal during these times is unclear, but the well-off would certainly incorporate plenty of game, fowl and meat dishes alongside rich sweetmeats.
After a few difficult times during the strict Protestant rule of Oliver Cromwell2, the festival slowly grew in popularity culminating in the creation of the 'Traditional' or 'Victorian' Christmas during the mid 1800s. By now other, more familiar, items had appeared. The Christmas tree, Christmas cards, crackers, pantomime... they were all inaugurated during the reign of Queen Victoria. For someone who was, famously, 'Not Amused' she certainly knew how to have a good time!
This series of recipes and thoughts aims to introduce the sort of Christmas which this Researcher and many others probably remember from their youth. Although most of the hard work associated with preparing for the biggest meal of the year in England can be avoided by the purchase of ready-prepared items, it can still be fun, if you have a little time, to 'do-it-yourself'. The collection of recipes provided are taken from tried and trusted ones which came mostly from family and also from a good level of cookery classes at school.
We hope you enjoy them.