Christmas feature

Food: the adult love affair

Ask any child what's most important about Christmas and you're
almost sure to hear it's presents, or Santa Claus, or school
holidays. But certainly not food.

In fact, for children, Christmas food is way down at the bottom of the list of priorities. We eat turkey and brussel sprouts and Christmas pudding. They barely manage to get through the boredom of a Christmas meal before dashing off with relief to get on with the really important stuff.

And if they do spare a thought for food amidst their seasonal excitement, it is usually the modern, novel, sweet goodies that attract them above any of the rich, traditional foods that characterise the period for us adults.

"My favourite Christmas food?"​ says Jethro, 8. "I really like those chocolate sweets with Christmas cracker snappers in them, because you get the snappers and a joke as well, which is really good, and can eat the chocolate, and then 'snap snap'."

But as children grow up, as they realise that Santa doesn't come anymore (perhaps because we've eaten his reindeer), as the snapping stops and the eating starts, they begin to enjoy what has the rest of us hooked.

And there's no denying that as we get older Christmas food seems to get more and more important until it's almost a ritual. Despite what some people may claim.

"Christmas isn't about the food,"​ says middle-aged Barbara, "I don't think it really matters."

"The food doesn't make that much difference to Christmas,"​ agrees John.

And 21 year-old Sam: "Christmas isn't really about what you're eating but who you're eating it with."

So why, then, are 40 per cent of turkeys in the UK slapped in the oven for a special Christmas roast?

In fact, turkey has become so firmly associated with the season that most people couldn't imagine eating anything else, wherever they are.

The Regency Restaurant, a well-established seafood restaurant in the UK's coastal town of Brighton, had prepared a limited number of turkey meals when it first started serving Christmas lunch, assuming that most people coming to a seafood restaurant would order, well, fish.

"That first Christmas we ran out of turkey in the first half hour. Invariably, all but two of our 200 clients wanted a traditional Christmas lunch. Now we serve up the works: turkey, chipolatas, brussel sprouts, roast parsnips, followed by Christmas pudding with brandy cream and mince pies,"​ said co-owner Emilio Savvides.

Tradition seems to be what counts most when it comes to what we eat at Christmas. All our respondents who didn't think Christmas food "really matters"​ nonetheless admitted that Christmas just wouldn't be the same without the food. "We just give in to tradition,"​ they say.

And ironically, while the young snappers don't much seem to care, the 'special' in a Christmas meal seems to count so much more when there are young 'uns around to prepare it for.

As Sue, 61, comments: "Overall, the time when the food mattered the most, and when I loved it most, was when the children were young. It was really something then creating a feast. Now, we still do it, but it's not the same."

Indeed, the focal point of the family gathering is the dining room table, piled high with those yearly specialities that really make Christmas stand out. Without a full tummy, the rest of the seasonal celebrations seem to lose their spark, and without a full table, there's no full tummy.

And surely the best proof of this is that after Christmas, we all winge about how we've over-eaten. And unlike our food-indifferent children, there's no dashing around the Christmas tree for us. So those lovely traditional dishes sit heavy in our belly as we try to recover from our love of Christmas food.

Happy Christmas!

Lorraine Heller, FoodNavigator-USA

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