Samui Wining & Dining
Festive Feasts

From orgasmic Roman feasts and medieval feasts through to
today’s Christmas dinners around the world.

Festive FeastsWe all love our Christmas dinner. And although not everyone in the world is a Christian, millions of people all over the globe happily anticipate Christmas – especially the feasting part!


Up until the age of the medieval era, the festival of Saturnalia largely influenced the nature of the celebration of Christmas. This Roman pagan festival occurred in late December and was known for its excesses of feasting and drinking and general overindulgence and riotous behavior. The central feature of Saturnalia was merry-making and exuberance, along the lines of Mardi Gras, as the Romans gave themselves up to wild joy and orgasmic feasting.


By the fourth century A.D. church leaders decided Christians needed a holiday to rival solstice pagan celebrations and selected 25th December to be the date associated with the birth of Christ and celebration of the nativity. And, sure enough, pagan festivals mostly died out but the feasting and merriment continued during this ‘new’ winter solstice holiday – Christmas.


So what did people eat on Christmas Day in Medieval England? Well, the rich would have eaten goose and, with the King’s permission, swan. Some families would catch woodcock and a medieval cook would make it look even tastier by covering the bird with butter and saffron plant, giving it a golden colour. Venison was also on the menu but the poor were not allowed to have the best parts of a deer, only what was left – the heart, liver, tongue, feet, ears and brains mixed with whatever else a cook could get. These parts were known as the deer’s ‘umbles’ and were made into a pie (thus ‘humble pie’).


A large mince pie was filled with shredded meat along with spices and fruit (the recipe changed in Victorian times when the shredded meat was left out). And Christmas pudding in Medieval England was spicy porridge and known as ‘frumenty’. In the countryside, a wild boar might be killed and its head cut off as an offering it to the goddess of farming to ensure a good crop the following year.


Continuing through the ages, the tradition of Christmas feasting remained constant. And a brief glimpse into Christmas dinners celebrated in some of the countries throughout the globe starts with the storybook setting of Christmas in Germany.

A German Christmas Eve dinner traditionally comprises suckling pig, white sausage, macaroni salad, a sweet cinnamon treat, ‘reisbrei’, and other regional dishes. The ‘Dickbauch’ (meaning ‘fat stomach’) myth is that those who do not eat well on Christmas Eve will be haunted by demons during the night. Christmas Day traditional dishes consisted of a plump roast goose, ‘Christstollen’ (long bread loaves stuffed with nuts, raisins, citron and dried fruit), ‘Lebkuchen’ (spice bars), marzipan, and ‘Dresden Stollen’ (a moist, heavy bread filled with fruit).


In Italy, an elaborate celebratory Christmas feast follows a strict fast a day before Christmas. The special Christmas Eve meal is known as ‘The Feast of the Seven Fishes’ or Vigilia di Natale, ‘Vigil of the Nativity’. A tradition in Italy and Sicily, it consists of seven fish-based dishes and pasta. The Christmas Eve dinner is based mainly on fish, with meat permissible to be eaten on Christmas Day. There’s a lasagna, cannelloni or a timbale of pasta followed by mixed roast or roast beef served with various types of cheeses, fruits and lots of sweets, all soaked in a good quality red or white wine. The most typical of the Christmas desserts, the ‘Torrone’, is served with honey or chocolate and almonds or pistachios.


Being down under, Australians celebrate Christmas during their Summer Holiday season. And much of their Christmas is spent outdoors – going to the beach or staying in the backyard and enjoying a ‘barbie’. A typical Aussie Christmas menu includes: seafood, glazed ham, cold chicken, duck or turkey, cold deli meats, pasta, salads galore, desserts of all types, fruit salad, ‘Pavlovas’ and ice-cream.


Christmas dinner in America is a combination of harvest feast foods, like turkey, squashes and potatoes and winter festival foods, like roasted beef or a ham with sides of salads, vegetables and an array of baked goods. Christmas dessert traditions include the Bûche de Nöel (imitating the Yule log), gingerbread houses (copying colorful chalets), and cookies cut into shapes of trees, stars and Santa Claus.


Traditional Christmas dinner in England is roasted turkey with vegetables and sauces and dessert a rich, fruity Christmas pudding with brandy sauce. And feasting continues on Boxing Day, the day after Christmas. Over in Japan, the Christmas festival culminates with a sumptuous meal; often fried chicken ending with a traditional Japanese Christmas cake made of sponge cake, strawberries and whipped cream.


And after midnight mass in France on Christmas Eve, a late supper known as Le Reveillon features goose as the main in Alsace, oysters and pate de foie gras in Paris and in Burgundy, turkey with chestnuts. The Bûche de Nol traditional Yule log-shaped cake is specially prepared and is an indispensable part of the grand French Christmas feast.


Although over 90% of the population in Thailand is Buddhist, with their famed love of sanuk (fun) most Thais celebrate the festive ‘Hollywood’ version of Christmas, and weeks before the holiday a Christmassy atmosphere is in full swing. Thais know little about the holiday’s religious significance but the spirit of Christmas – giving gifts, feasting, kindness, love, peace to all mankind – is something Thai people take great pleasure in celebrating. No nation likes to party more than the Thais and it didn’t take long for Christmas to take hold in the Kingdom.


A traditional Christmas feast can easily be found on Samui, with a large number of hotels and restaurants offering a menu complete with turkey, roast potatoes and all the trimmings. And most resorts offer a Christmas meal package, often with entertainment and games for the kids. (Do note, however, that many top hotels on Samui (and Thailand) have a ‘compulsory’ inclusive Christmas and New Year’s dinner attendance policy with room booking.


So, whether you’re sharing Christmas dinner at home with friends and family or joining in the celebrations with the locals and other visitors, Christmas dinner on Samui is always a special and memorable island experience.


Jan Henderson


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