Charles Dickens and the birth of the classic English Christmas dinner

Mr. Fezziwig’s Ball from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.
Hand colored etching by John Leech

Joan Fitzpatrick, Loughborough University

Charles Dickens popularised the traditional, English Christmas in 1843 in his novel A Christmas Carol, when Bob Cratchit and his family sit down on Christmas Day to eat a dinner of goose with mashed potatoes and apple sauce accompanied by sage and onion stuffing and followed by Christmas pudding.

It’s a vision that is watched – unseen by the Cratchits – by a fast-repenting Ebenezer Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Present who is showing the miser the error of his ways.

Duly chastened by his supernatural experience, the newly festive Scrooge sends over, on Christmas morning, a turkey that is “twice the size of Tiny Tim” – and will certainly feed more people than the goose. This set the seal for the popular English Christmas meal. But what did people eat at Christmas time before goose and turkey?

A time of gifts

In the anonymous late 14th-century poem Gawain and the Green Knight, Gawain is served “many delicacies” on Christmas Day in the castle of Sir Bertilak, but no meat in the meal he eats on Christmas Eve, which was a time for fasting.

During the medieval period it was traditional in wealthier households for a boar’s head to take pride of place at the centre of the festive table – a tradition alluded to when Sir Bertilak presents Gawain with the head and flesh of the boar he has killed. A 15th-century carol, The Boar’s Head, celebrates the dish this:

Chief service in all this land
Wheresoever it may be found,
Served up with mustard.

Of course the poor would have eaten what they could get, including scraps from their master’s table if they had access to them.

Good bread and good drink

For the Elizabethans, no specific food was special during Christmas time. In Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry (1573), Thomas Tusser recommended: “Good bread and good drink”. Meat was the dominant foodstuff:

Beef, mutton, and pork, and good pies of the best
Pig, veal, goose, and capon, and turkey well dressed.

Potatoes – a product of the New World, like the turkey – were not a regular feature of feasts until the middle of the 17th century. Even then they remained expensive – which is why bread and pies dominate in descriptions of Christmas foodstuffs before Dickens. Vegetables are rare in descriptions of early feasts, and do not feature in the Cratchit Christmas dinner. The Brussels sprout – a member of the cabbage family, specially developed by 16th-century Belgian farmers – may have become a staple of the modern Christmas dinner in part due to fashion and an increasing awareness of nutrition, and the fact that cabbage had a reputation since ancient times of preventing drunkenness.

Robert Herrick’s Ceremonies for Christmas (1648) urges “merry, merry boys” to bring in the Christmas log and to consume strong beer and white bread “while the meat is a-shredding / For the rare mince-pie”. The yule log would have been lit on Christmas Eve; the modern confection of sponge and chocolate is a nod towards this old tradition. On the contrary, mince pies used to be savoury – in Hannah Woolley’s popular cookbook of the time, The Queen-Like Closet (1670), there is a recipe for “good minced pies” containing veal. Puddings too were often savoury, similar to haggis – although it is the sweet plum pudding that would become the traditional Christmas pud.

Twelfth night

Yet for the Elizabethans, and subsequent generations too, Twelfth Night (January 6) rather than Christmas Day was the main focus of revelry during the Christmas season. In Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night (first performed around 1602) Sir Toby Belch evokes the historical figure of the Lord of Misrule. When Sir Toby mocks Malvolio’s puritanism with “Dost thou think because thou art virtuous there shall be no more cakes and ale?” he anticipates the banning of such food during the English Commonwealth of 1649 to 1660.

Herrick’s poem Twelfth Night, or King and Queen (1648) describes the Twelfth Night Cake – a spiced fruit cake containing a bean and a pea that represents the king and queen with the recipients of each being crowned king and queen for the night. Herrick’s “bowl full of gentle lamb’s wool” (hot ale, roasted apple pulp, and spices) is used to wassail (toast) the pretend king and queen.

Samuel Pepys makes several references to Twelfth Night Cake in his diary, including an entry for January 6 1668 where he describes “an excellent cake” that cost him nearly 20 shillings – about one day’s salary from his job as Clerk of the Acts at the Navy Board.

Twelfth Night remained the focus of festivities during the Regency period and Jane Austen would have been familiar with the eponymous cake. She also mentions Christmas in her novels but does not specify the Christmas Day meal. In Emma, there is a Christmas Eve dinner at Randalls, the home of the Westons, where saddle of mutton is served, and in Persuasion, a visit to the Musgroves during the Christmas holidays reveals tables “bending under the weight of brawn and cold pies”. Brawn here indicates a dish of meat from the head of a pig set in its own jelly and so harks back to the boar’s head from medieval times.

The closest most of us get to Boar’s Head these days is likely to be a pub whose name commemorates it. So we can largely thank Charles Dickens, who was himself very fond of turkey, for the tradition of the Christmas Dinner turkey – a gift from the newly reformed Scrooge, which now forms the centrepiece of most Christmas tables.The Conversation

Joan Fitzpatrick, Senior Lecturer in English (Specialism: Renaissance Scholar), Loughborough University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Take a Seat and Enjoy The Village Square Journal

Guest Post by Amara Chimeka, Obinna Udenwe and Osemome Ndebbio Founding Editors of The Village Square Journal

Hello World!

We are pleased to welcome you to The Village Square Journal. A village square is more than just a venue, it is a catalyst of sorts for the arts, and all forms of its expression. The Village Square Journal seeks to be a hub where play and artistic display come together to thrill and thrive, as well a compendium of sorts for culture preservation. It also looks forward to being a fulcrum of the promotion and appreciation of all forms of visual arts, contemporary literature and politics

We feel honoured to launch our website with works from the finest selection of literary artists across the globe. Click on our fiction tab, and time travel with Jayne Bauling’s “Ancient Words.” It promises to be a smooth trip with the first 2000 words of Karen Jennings’ novel in progress, Crooked Seeds waiting to intrigue you aussi. Our essay tab is just as titillating, as there you will read multiple-award winning author and academic, Helon Habila.

Then there is a super informative opinion piece from Trish Nicholson based on her research on the history of famous women from the Stone Age to the 20thcentury that cuts across Egypt, Northern Nigeria, Scotland, Ethiopia, and India.

Our poetry tab will lead you to two profound poems. One from Toni Stuart that addresses the strength of women and another from Richard Inya on immigration and the fate of migrants trying to cross the Red Sea.

Follow our interview editor to Cameroon as she interviews Patrice Nganang, the professor recently incarcerated by Paul Biya, and read her conversation with Julie Owono, a human rights activist/lawyer based in Paris, France.

There is also the conversation between two of our editors and two editors of The Temz Review, Amy Mitchell and Aaron Schneider. We also thought you would want to have a yummy laugh, so we served you our Cameroon vs Nigeria Jollof War.

This outing would be impossible but for the brilliance, commitment and dedication of our contributing editors; Ngum Ngafor, Noma Sibanda and Nora Vasconcelos. We also wish to express our heartfelt gratitude to the members of our advisory board; Ivor Hartman, Viola Llewellyn, Professor Akachi Ezeigbo and Sian Ejiwumi-Le Berre.

We look forward to your feedback and to constantly serving the finest selection of literary pieces.

Sincerely,

The Village Square Journal Team

 

 

Diversions, Distractions, and Delightful Detours

By Nora Vasconcelos

Diversions, Distractions, and Delightful Detours …when I came across with this lovely topic I only could think of Mexico City, because this amazing place offers a bit of everything for anyone who visits or lives in this singular metropolis.

You can enjoy a spectacular view from the top…

… a little of magic in the middle of an urban forest,

… an oaisis in the middle of the city,

… sunny days and blue skyes,

and cloudy, scary ones as well.

Sometimes you come across with small surprises…

sweet surprises…

and big surprises!

Occasionally, a fantastic replica of the Sistine Chapel pops up in the middle of the city…

Or a huge foot ball joins the scenery along with an ancient sculpture and the skyline.

Some other times, you can fine solace in one of the many city parks.

And of course …a lovely bookstore is always nearby!

So, either you have a specific itinerary, or you just feel like wondering around, Mexico City will always be full of exciting experiences waiting for you!

**All photos: copyright Nora Vasconcelos

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Ooh, Shiny!

Beautiful Bruges

By Jane Isaac
Crime Fiction Writer

The historic city of Bruges is located on the western side of Belgium in the Flemish Region and, in my mind, can only be described as achingly beautiful. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, ancient buildings are surrounded by cobbled streets, alongside the tall slim houses which line the canals that snake through the city centre.

With a climate very similar to England, we were treated to beautiful sunshine during our stay last weekend which undoubtedly added to our enjoyment, however I think there is little not to enjoy about Bruges. It’s not only pretty, but also one of the friendliest cities I have visited. The small Hotel Alegria where we stayed was perfectly located in the centre and the owner, Veronique, couldn’t do enough to cater for our every need, without being intrusive.

There’s a number of different options to travel to Bruges from the UK; I guess it rather depends on where you are travelling from. This time we opted for the Eurotunnel which we picked up at Folkstone and found to be not only inexpensive, but also enormously efficient. It seems that if you arrive early, you can board an earlier train within a two hour slot of your booking for no extra charge, and the boarding and disembarking are effortless, as are the drive through France and into Belgium. From our home in Northamptonshire, the whole journey took us a little over five hours door to door.

There are a plethora of different trips to take and places to visit when you arrive in the city. Cars are rarer than in other cities, making it softer and more tranquil, as most people appear to travel around by bike. A canal trip is beautiful and relatively inexpensive, especially when it includes an overview of the city’s rich history. Climbing the 366 steps to the top of the medieval Belfry that dominates Bruges skyline can be tough on the knees and a little scary in places (especially if you have a husband with a heart condition!), but the view at the top is breathtaking and well worth the hike. A trip around the back streets by horse and carriage is another wonderful way to move around, and particularly romantic on a balmy evening. There is also the Basilica of the Holy Blood, which is worth visiting for the stained glass windows alone, and if you are religious, amongst its relics, it claims to have a phial of the blood of Christ that you can view.

As one would expect, Bruges is packed with restaurants, cafes and outdoor eateries; lovely boutiques, and delicious chocolatiers. Of course we tried the chocolate (I can recommend Julie’s if anyone is looking for somewhere particularly nice), sampled the fresh waffles, and bought frites from the stall in the square. But those of you that know me well, will know that I’m a bit of a foodie (my daughter’s influence) and I really wanted to try some of their high end restaurants too. We enjoyed an amazing meal at Brasserie Raymond where we tried delicacies such as snails, marrowbone and bouillabaisse. We also ate lobster and moules (mussels) at the wonderful Breydel-De Coninc, somewhere I’m told the locals frequent. Main courses at these two restaurants average 20-30 Euros each, but are definitely worth it if you want to try something different, however the choice of eateries, and cheap ones at that, is vast and there is practically something available for every taste and pocket. My only regret was that due to being on medication I wasn’t able to sample the many beers that Belguim has to offer, although my husband made sure he didn’t let the side down on that count!

Surprisingly small (my husband joked that everything was within fifteen minutes walking distance from the city centre), Bruges is easily accessible on foot and a wander up the back streets, passing street markets, soaking up the ambience and sitting outside cafes is what it’s all about. On one particular evening, we sat near a market stall and, after chatting with the stallholder, she asked me to mind her stall while she popped to the ladies. At the same café, a bunch of musicians stopped by for a beer and pulled out their guitars. When they discovered my husband was also a keen guitarist, they leant him an instrument and they all played some tunes together. That evening summed up Bruges for me: good food and good company amongst beautiful surroundings. I should add that many of the locals speak up to five languages fluently, so communication is rarely a problem!

I’ll definitely go back to Bruges. Next time I’d like to take a boat trip to visit the nearby village of Damme and perhaps visit the Flanders Battlefields of Ypres too. There is just so much to do in and around this wonderful city.

*All images courtesy of Jane Isaac

** This article was originally published on Jane Isaac’s Blog

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Made in México

el-puente-de-metlac-1881

By Nora Vasconcelos

In the second half of the 19th century, José María Velasco enchanted the world with his paintings in which he depicted with precise detail the landscapes of the Valley of México and the outskirts of the Mexican capital.

His studies at the San Carlos Academy, under the guidance of the Italian artist Eugenio Landesio, his deep interest in science, and his encounter with the French Impressionist, combined in a way that he was able to bring alive colourful scenes of the Mexican Landscape.

Velasco did that with such detail that many of his paintings have been the base for the study of the geography and botanic that existed in central México before buildings and houses cover this territory.

His profound love and observation of his country are something that it’s admired up to these days.

His art is just one of the many wonderful things Made in México.

As it is its history and culture, which have been recognized by Unesco. Nowadays, México has the largest number of World Heritage Sites in the Americas, and it’s placed seventh in the world. Part of this list includes the archaeological zones of  Chichen Itza, Palenque, El Tajin and Teotihuacan, as well as the city centres of Mexico city, Guanajuato and Morelia.

Modern architects such as Luis Barragán, Pedro Ramírez Vázquez, Ricardo Legorreta and Teodoro González de León contributed to design the new capital city, bringing strong firm colours to structures that are easily identifiable around the world as Mexican design. Along them, painters such as Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, and writers like Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Carlos Fuentes y Octavio Paz, have gotten high recognition around the world.

Unesco has also designated Mexican cuisine as ‘intangible cultural heritage’. And if course it impossible not to mention the production of Tequila and Mezcal, coveted all around the world. Guacamole and great coffee, are also Made in México.

So, as José María Velasco did in his time, nowadays we can admire México for all its greatness, having in mind that the same as bad things happen in this country, they happen in any other country, and México is a place full of beauty and hardworking people proud of their heritage.

 

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Where the oceans meet

san-juan-oceans

By Nora Vasconcelos

Puerto Rico lays where the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea intersect. This archipelago contains some of the most amazing landscapes any traveller can see, as well as rich architecture; centuries of history; Spanish, French and Caribbean culinary influences, and beautiful beaches.

All of this makes of Puerto Rico a really good destination for turists who want to relax and wander around historical sites.

Curious about it? This week, my good friend and mystery author, Jane Isaac, kindly published a guest post I wrote about lovely Puerto Rico.

You can read it here: (Puerto Rico: Where the oceans meet)

Jane is also launching soon her fourth book: Beneath the Ashes, which is ready for pre-order now. Don’t miss the chance to discover what new mysteryes DI Will Jackman will be called to investigate!

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Cruising the Mediterranean

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By Sunny Lockwood and Al Lockwood

Guest Post

For those of us who love to travel, there’s rarely a question of why?

We know why: we want to see new places, learn about new cultures, try new foods, and simply have fun in a city or countryside where we’ve never been before.

The questions we ask are: Where do we want to go next? How can we get there? When can we leave?

My husband and I have had the travel bug since we were young. Now, well into retirement, our wanderlust is strong as ever. And the rewards are equally great.

Studies show that travel is good for the body, the brain and the spirit. And even though our older bodies lack the endurance they once had, we find that travel enlarges our concept of “home” and enriches our experience of wonder.

Imagine being awakened by the deep, resonant melody of church bells, bells that have rung each morning for centuries. That was our experience in Florence.

Or being enveloped in the fragrance of incense from a fortuneteller’s shop. We experienced that each afternoon in Barcelona. Our Airbnb apartment was right above her shop.

Imagine the flavor of dark chocolate gelato setting your taste buds dancing. That was our daily experience in Venice. That and the scene of shiny black gondolas sliding calmly through narrow canals.

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Our stunning world is immense. But our individual lives are brief. So if there’s something you dream of doing, our advice is do it now. While you can.

Sweetheart Al and I choose ocean cruising as our preferred method of long-range travel. There are many reasons for this, including our modest travel budget and our declining mobility. We can no longer hike like there’s no tomorrow, jump into sleeping bags, or pedal bicycles for miles.

But on a cruise we can see the world at our own pace and in our own way while sleeping in the same comfortable bed each night.

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And we’ve chosen to share our adventures through travel memoirs.

Our newest book, Cruising the Mediterranean, brings readers along on our 12-day cruise to Venice, Athens, Istanbul, Ephesus and three Greek islands.

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Even before we left California, we started our trip by adjusting our internal clock so that we’d be on European time when we arrived in Amsterdam. We added four days in Amsterdam just because Al wanted me to see that historic city, before boarding our cruise ship.

In Amsterdam, we used Airbnb. A first for us, and we loved the experience. We stayed in the heart of historic Amsterdam. Actually, our room was in the Red Light District, so our “window shopping” introduced us to the latest in sex toys, edible underwear and items we couldn’t even identify.

We cruised on Holland America. We’ve cruised on other lines, but this 12-day trip fit our pocketbook and visited places we really wanted to see.

At every stop, we experienced something wonderful, from standing on the Acropolis as the morning sun gilded its marble monuments, to watching a rug weaving demonstration in Istanbul.

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We discovered delectable Turkish Delight during a dinner cruise along the Bosphorous Strait. And enjoyed the largest piece of Baklava we’d ever seen in a family-owned restaurant on the island of Santorini.

We’ve done our best to capture in words (and a few photographs) the wonder of our trip. Our goal in writing travel memoirs? To share our fun and fabulous experience. And to encourage others to make their own travel dreams come true.

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*Sunny Lockwood is a retired newspaper reporter, columnist and editor. Her freelance stories and articles have been published in MS magazine, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and other national and regional publications. Al Lockwood is a retired Silicon Valley engineer. He’s a fine art photographer whose work has been published in magazines and newspapers.

*All the images courtesy of Sunny Lockwood and Al Lockwood

 

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