Some Christmas traditions I hold very dear to my heart, but there are a number of customs that I have adapted or dropped altogether over the years. I stopped going to church some time ago, and have refocused what this time of year means to me; I haven’t forced down a Christmas pudding for a good couple of decades now; and blog followers will know that I nearly dropped writing cards this year too (although that was a move too far in the end). However, I am crowning this most bizarre of years with the greatest Christmas heresy of all – abandoning the Christmas turkey.
I have been talking about it for many years, but I’ve never actually dared to do it. I know some people really do love it and look forward to it, before and after Christmas – but for me, it’s really not my favourite, hot or cold. Add in that the whole thing is a massive project to cook on Christmas Day, and on paper making the change is a no-brainer. But dropping such a firmly-embedded tradition like this one is easier said than done.
It’s such an assumed fixture of Christmas; having roast turkey is just what you do, even if you don’t really like it very much. It’s apparently been around since Henry VIII, and it’s in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, when Scrooge buys a massive one for the Cratchits to make up for years of underpaid servitude – and if it’s in Dickens, then it is unquestionably Christmas, and not having one is heresy of the highest order.
Just watch the first Royle Family Christmas special from 1999, which captures my dilemma perfectly. After hours spent producing the dinner, mum Barbara asks everyone if they’ve enjoyed it:
Barbara: Did you like that turkey, Jim?
Jim: Little bit dry Barb, wasn’t it?
Barbara: Did you, Mam?
Nanna: I’ve never liked turkey, Barbara.
Barbara: Did you like it, Dave?
Dave: Nah, I can take it or leave it Barbara.
Barbara: Did you like it, Denise?
Denise: No, I didn’t like it. It’s no flavour.
Barbara: How about you, Antony?
Antony: No, I’m not bothered really.
Barbara: Oh. Oh, I don’t think I’ll bother getting a turkey next Christmas.
General consternation from assembled family
Denise: Mam, you’ve got to have a turkey for Christmas!
And I confess to feeling the same over the years – I don’t really like it, but I’m afraid that if I change such a fundamental element of the day, it will all go horribly wrong. And not just Christmas Day – what about Boxing Day? What if I’ve massively underestimated my longing for a cold cut of turkey and baked potato?
Every year, though, we have said “we really ought to try something else next year” – and this year, I have the perfect replacement. It’s completely different, and I’m actually very excited to be eating it hot: the large glazed gammon joint I normally produce on Boxing Day, and which has always to date been eaten cold. It’s studded with cloves and done with a mixed spice, bourbon and maple syrup glaze, slow roasted for a couple of hours with basting every 15 minutes before the end. It comes out the most gorgeous colour, and makes the house smell incredible – and I can’t wait to eat it piping hot. No faffing about with stuffing and temperatures and whether the juice from the fattest part of the leg is running clear – just an aromatic treat that practically carves itself.
I daren’t change anything else though, so it will be served with all the usual poultry trimmings – port and cranberry gravy, bread sauce, stuffing and pigs in blankets. Not your traditional gammon setting, but it will be a mixture of all the bits of Christmas lunch we love, and it will ensure I’ve got all the bits I love for a good leftovers feast on Boxing Day.
So here goes – it’s a big change, but I think it’s the right one. And I don’t think there will be a more fitting year than 2020 to do it.