I recently vacationed in London with my family for Thanksgiving. Since England doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving, the city was already decorated for Christmas. This got me thinking about how our holiday customs came to be and how they have evolved over the years. Many of our United States holiday traditions came from the Old English Christmas traditions. While in London, I was inspired to create a Ye Olde Christmas dinner menu. I hope you enjoy these festive selections and embrace new traditions.
When hosting a Ye Old Christmas dinner party, greet guests with a wassail bowl and simple English cheeses such as Cotswold, Farmhouse Cheddar and Blue Stilton. In the cider-producing English counties, wassailing refers to a traditional ceremony that involves singing and drinking to the health of trees in the hopes that they might thrive.
For the first course, there are plenty of options. While we often think of turkey as the show-stopper (King Henry VIII was the first king to indulge in turkey for Christmas dinner), the Victorian-era societies generally dined on goose. It was quite common for Goose "Clubs" to be set up, allowing working-class families to save money over the year towards a goose. We recommend serving a smooth duck pâté with brandied fruit chutney and toast points. Or, opt for sliced smoked salmon with brown bread, lemon and simple accompaniments.
For the main course, offer your guests sage-basted sliced turkey. Breaking the wishbone is also an English Christmas tradition. Or, try a standing rib roast with au jus and traditional Yorkshire pudding. A rib roast is a nice contrast to the Thanksgiving turkey meal. You can also enjoy chestnut bread dressing with gravy, roasted root vegetables including parsnips and carrots, sautéed Brussels sprouts with a maple mustard vinaigrette and cranberry sauce. Of course, what English meal wouldn’t be complete without tiny bangers (sausages) wrapped in bacon?
Finally, offer your guests traditional English dessert including brandy plum pudding, also known as Christmas pudding. The flaming brandy is said to ward off evil spirits. The English also feast on mince pies and layered fruit trifle. Top off the evening with a night cap of fine cognac or flavored coffee and toast your family a Happy Christmas at Ye Olde Christmas Dinner.