Samui Wining & Dining
Fare-ing Festively

A look around the world reveals that not everyone has turkey on the table at Christmas time!

 

3Every year, more than 400 million people around the globe celebrate Christmas. And this also happens in many countries that aren’t actually Christian, such as Thailand, for example. But did you realise that people were doing this long before ‘Christmas’ itself even existed? The gradual evolution of Christmas for Christianity is a long and tangled tale, with the early Roman Church doing all it could to steer its flock away from deeply-rooted pagan ceremonies. And all over the northern hemisphere one of these pagan high points was the Winter Solstice, the day that the sun is furthest away from the earth – the shortest day of the year.

Which, of course, means that after this point things were looking up! The year was being ‘reborn’ and sun-worshipers everywhere celebrated this event. In ancient Babylon, the ‘Feast of the Son of Isis’ (the Goddess of Nature’s son) was celebrated on December 25th. The early Romans let rip with their debauched ‘Saturnalia’, which lasted a week and began on the 17th December. And Druid tradition observed ‘Alban Arthan’ (the Light of Arthur) – a time of death and rebirth – on 21st December. It wasn’t actually until as late as 336 AD that the Christian Church decided that the 25th December was a good date to ascribe to the birth of Christ, and the first official ‘Christmases’ began to appear.

Since which time, people from all over the world have come to look forward to this event. And, religious observances aside, this is also a time for feasting and celebration. Traditions have come to differ widely from one country to another. But one of the things that is common to all is that traditional Christmas foodstuffs or dishes make their appearance each year at this time.

In the Western world, the ubiquitous turkey didn’t make its appearance until well into the 16th century – first brought to Europe from the Americas around 1520. And turkey immediately became popular because not only was it big but it was relatively cheap and quick to fatten, too. Even before that time, however, the centrepiece of a large dressed, stuffed and roasted fowl had become established, with swans, peacocks or geese being the choice of the day. But not all countries followed this pattern. For example, the traditional Christmas meal in the Czech Republic is fried carp and potato salad. This became popular around the 1700s, simply due to the excessive number of fishponds throughout the country at that time!

Finland also features fish in its annual Joulupöytä (‘Christmas Table’) which is similar to the Swedish smörgåsbord. But here you’ll also find a large ham and a liver and raisin casserole. And to wash this down, a glass or two of glögi, which translates as ‘spiced mulled wine’.

But you also need to keep in mind that many of these dishes arose from a society composed of peasants and overlords. The aristocracy enjoyed the finest of the fare, naturally. And the serfs had to muddle along with whatever scraps they could find. Mince pies, for example, originally did contain minced meat of some sort – usually chopped so fine that you didn’t need to worry about exactly what kind it was! And traditionally these were first made in the shape of small blocks to represent Jesus’ crib.

Both the French and the Germans are keen on their geese and turkeys but one of the best-known traditional French seasonal delicacies is Bûche de Noël, a cake rolled and filled with chestnut cream and coated in marzipan. Legend has it that these cakes were first created in the late 19th century by Parisian pastry chefs who were inspired by the burning of Yule logs throughout the night of Christmas Eve. Similarly, the Germans are famous for their spiced biscuits and cakes, such as gingerbread and stolen, the latter being first baked in 14th-century and supposedly shaped to resemble the baby Jesus in swaddling clothes.

In many parts of what is now known as the Russian Federation, many people still observe a long period of fasting before the 25th and then launch into a long 12-course meal (one course in honour of each of the 12 apostles). This includes fish, borscht, cooked dried fruit and a special Christmas Eve delicacy known as kutya, made from whole-wheat grains seasoned with honey and crushed poppy seeds.

Warmer countries seem to have different menus. In coastal Mediterranean regions, we’re back to fish again, with Portuguese families tucking into their national holiday-dish of bacalhau (dried cod) followed by fried slices of white bread soaked in eggs and wine, called rabanadas. In Spain, the main dish is usually white sea bass roasted with breadcrumbs, with traditional seasonal treats relying on almonds and marzipan, such as turrón, a sweet similar to nougat and made from honey and almonds.

If we head down to South America, where those very useful turkeys were first discovered, we’ll find that they’re served-up here with a bit of a difference. Not only is the traditional dinner held on Christmas Eve, but the cuisine is richer and spicier, with the turkey being marinated in rum with onions, garlic, tomatoes, lime juice and other spices, and served with brightly coloured rice and vegetables.

And then there’s the good old U.S. of A., which just has turkey, right? Wrong! There are so many regions and cultures in this huge nation that there really is no ‘usual’ dish. Hawaii enjoys turkey teriyaki, Virginia has oysters and ham pie and the Midwest includes dishes from predominately Scandinavian backgrounds, such as lutefisk and mashed rutabaga (turnip). And in the south-western regions, a traditional Christmas dinner usually includes Mexican morsels, such as posole, tamales, empanaditas and biscochitos! It’s a big, wide, wonderful world!

Felices Navidades! Joyeux Nöel! Hyvaa Joula! God Jul! Jutdlime Pivdluarit! Ukiortame Pivdluaritlo! Sretan Bozic! Zalig Kerstfeest! Srozhdestvom Kristovym! Fröhliche Weinachten! At least every one of these languages has the same mean. And that is – a Very Merry Christmas!

 

Every year, more than 400 million people around the globe celebrate Christmas. And this also happens in many countries that aren’t actually Christian, such as Thailand, for example. But did you realise that people were doing this long before ‘Christmas’ itself even existed? The gradual evolution of Christmas for Christianity is a long and tangled tale, with the early Roman Church doing all it could to steer its flock away from deeply-rooted pagan ceremonies. And all over the northern hemisphere one of these pagan high points was the Winter Solstice, the day that the sun is furthest away from the earth – the shortest day of the year.

Which, of course, means that after this point things were looking up! The year was being ‘reborn’ and sun-worshipers everywhere celebrated this event. In ancient Babylon, the ‘Feast of the Son of Isis’ (the Goddess of Nature’s son) was celebrated on December 25th. The early Romans let rip with their debauched ‘Saturnalia’, which lasted a week and began on the 17th December. And Druid tradition observed ‘Alban Arthan’ (the Light of Arthur) – a time of death and rebirth – on 21st December. It wasn’t actually until as late as 336 AD that the Christian Church decided that the 25th December was a good date to ascribe to the birth of Christ, and the first official ‘Christmases’ began to appear.

Since which time, people from all over the world have come to look forward to this event. And, religious observances aside, this is also a time for feasting and celebration. Traditions have come to differ widely from one country to another. But one of the things that is common to all is that traditional Christmas foodstuffs or dishes make their appearance each year at this time.

In the Western world, the ubiquitous turkey didn’t make its appearance until well into the 16th century – first brought to Europe from the Americas around 1520. And turkey immediately became popular because not only was it big but it was relatively cheap and quick to fatten, too. Even before that time, however, the centrepiece of a large dressed, stuffed and roasted fowl had become established, with swans, peacocks or geese being the choice of the day. But not all countries followed this pattern. For example, the traditional Christmas meal in the Czech Republic is fried carp and potato salad. This became popular around the 1700s, simply due to the excessive number of fishponds throughout the country at that time!

Finland also features fish in its annual Joulupöytä (‘Christmas Table’) which is similar to the Swedish smörgåsbord. But here you’ll also find a large ham and a liver and raisin casserole. And to wash this down, a glass or two of glögi, which translates as ‘spiced mulled wine’.

But you also need to keep in mind that many of these dishes arose from a society composed of peasants and overlords. The aristocracy enjoyed the finest of the fare, naturally. And the serfs had to muddle along with whatever scraps they could find. Mince pies, for example, originally did contain minced meat of some sort – usually chopped so fine that you didn’t need to worry about exactly what kind it was! And traditionally these were first made in the shape of small blocks to represent Jesus’ crib.

Both the French and the Germans are keen on their geese and turkeys but one of the best-known traditional French seasonal delicacies is Bûche de Noël, a cake rolled and filled with chestnut cream and coated in marzipan. Legend has it that these cakes were first created in the late 19th century by Parisian pastry chefs who were inspired by the burning of Yule logs throughout the night of Christmas Eve. Similarly, the Germans are famous for their spiced biscuits and cakes, such as gingerbread and stolen, the latter being first baked in 14th-century and supposedly shaped to resemble the baby Jesus in swaddling clothes.

In many parts of what is now known as the Russian Federation, many people still observe a long period of fasting before the 25th and then launch into a long 12-course meal (one course in honour of each of the 12 apostles). This includes fish, borscht, cooked dried fruit and a special Christmas Eve delicacy known as kutya, made from whole-wheat grains seasoned with honey and crushed poppy seeds.

Warmer countries seem to have different menus. In coastal Mediterranean regions, we’re back to fish again, with Portuguese families tucking into their national holiday-dish of bacalhau (dried cod) followed by fried slices of white bread soaked in eggs and wine, called rabanadas. In Spain, the main dish is usually white sea bass roasted with breadcrumbs, with traditional seasonal treats relying on almonds and marzipan, such as turrón, a sweet similar to nougat and made from honey and almonds.

If we head down to South America, where those very useful turkeys were first discovered, we’ll find that they’re served-up here with a bit of a difference. Not only is the traditional dinner held on Christmas Eve, but the cuisine is richer and spicier, with the turkey being marinated in rum with onions, garlic, tomatoes, lime juice and other spices, and served with brightly coloured rice and vegetables.

And then there’s the good old U.S. of A., which just has turkey, right? Wrong! There are so many regions and cultures in this huge nation that there really is no ‘usual’ dish. Hawaii enjoys turkey teriyaki, Virginia has oysters and ham pie and the Midwest includes dishes from predominately Scandinavian backgrounds, such as lutefisk and mashed rutabaga (turnip). And in the south-western regions, a traditional Christmas dinner usually includes Mexican morsels, such as posole, tamales, empanaditas and biscochitos! It’s a big, wide, wonderful world!

Felices Navidades! Joyeux Nöel! Hyvaa Joula! God Jul! Jutdlime Pivdluarit! Ukiortame Pivdluaritlo! Sretan Bozic! Zalig Kerstfeest! Srozhdestvom Kristovym! Fröhliche Weinachten! At least every one of these languages has the same mean. And that is – a Very Merry Christmas!

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