The Origin of Eating Turkey on Christmas Day

For 87% of British people, a traditional roast turkey is a must-have dish on Christmas Day. This is just one of the many old traditions that are practiced during this festive season, along with sending Christmas cards and decorating the house with tinsel.

However, have you ever wondered why turkey is the star of the Christmas dinner table? When did this tradition begin? Let’s delve into the facts and history behind this delicious bird and why it has become a staple Christmas meal.

Where Did It All Begin?

William Strickland, a sailor, introduced turkeys to Britain in 1526. In 1550, he was even granted a coat of arms featuring a turkey. Before this, geese, boars’ heads, and peacocks were the popular choices for Christmas meals. It was King Henry VIII who first ate a turkey on Christmas Day, but the exact year remains unclear.

In Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol,” published in 1843, Ebenezer Scrooge gave the Cratchit family a turkey. Dickens’s family also had a turkey for Christmas that year. However, it wasn’t until the 1950s that turkey became a more popular choice than goose.

Queen Victoria had a turkey for Christmas dinner in 1851, but it still wasn’t widely available at that time. After WWII, turkey became the traditional Christmas meal in the UK due to farming becoming more efficient. Farmers needed their cows for milk and chickens for eggs, so they chose turkey for Christmas as it was more family-sized, and they could save their livestock.

5 Fun Facts About Christmas Turkey

Each year, around 10 million turkeys are consumed on Christmas Day in the UK. A quarter of British people buy their turkeys months in advance, and the top three ways to serve leftover turkey are sandwiches, soups/stews, or salads. 20% of British people pay extra for their turkeys for “extra quality.” Lastly, 87% of British people believe that Christmas wouldn’t feel complete without a traditional roast turkey.

In Conclusion

Eating turkey for Christmas dinner has been a tradition for hundreds of years, thanks to influential people like William Strickland, Charles Dickens, and Queen Victoria. While goose was the initial choice for Christmas dinner, turkey has become the most festive bird and a favorite for many families.


1. Why is turkey such a popular choice for Christmas dinner?

Turkey is a popular choice for Christmas dinner because it is a large bird that can feed a lot of people. It is also a traditional meat that has been eaten at Christmas for many years. The bird is usually roasted in the oven and served with vegetables and stuffing. In addition, turkey is a lean meat that is low in fat and high in protein, making it a healthy option for a celebratory meal.

2. Is there a historical reason why we eat turkey on Christmas Day?

There is no clear historical reason why we eat turkey on Christmas Day. However, it is thought that the tradition may have originated in England in the 16th century when it became fashionable to eat turkey instead of goose for Christmas. Another theory is that the tradition may have started in the United States in the 19th century when turkey became more widely available and affordable.

3. Do people in other countries eat turkey on Christmas Day?

While turkey is a popular choice for Christmas dinner in many countries, it is not the only option. In some countries, such as Italy and Spain, seafood is often served on Christmas Eve, while in other countries, such as Germany and Poland, ham is a popular choice. In the United Kingdom, some people still prefer to eat goose or beef instead of turkey.

4. What are some alternative meats that can be served on Christmas Day?

There are many alternative meats that can be served on Christmas Day, including ham, beef, duck, goose, lamb, and chicken. Vegetarians may opt for a nut roast or a vegetarian roast that is made with tofu or seitan. It is important to choose a meat that will suit the tastes and dietary requirements of your guests.

5. What are some traditional side dishes to serve with turkey on Christmas Day?

Some traditional side dishes to serve with turkey on Christmas Day include roast potatoes, Brussels sprouts, carrots, parsnips, and stuffing. Gravy and cranberry sauce are also popular accompaniments. Some families may have their own unique side dishes that have been passed down through generations.

6. Can turkey be cooked in a way other than roasting it in the oven?

Yes, turkey can be cooked in a variety of ways, including grilling, smoking, and deep-frying. Each method will result in a different flavor and texture. However, it is important to ensure that the turkey is cooked to the correct internal temperature to avoid any food safety issues.

7. How long does it take to cook a turkey?

The cooking time for a turkey will depend on the size of the bird and the method of cooking. A general rule of thumb is to cook the turkey for 15-20 minutes per pound at a temperature of 325°F. It is important to use a meat thermometer to check that the internal temperature of the turkey has reached at least 165°F.

8. How should turkey be stored before cooking?

Turkey should be stored in the refrigerator or freezer before cooking. If the turkey is frozen, it should be thawed in the refrigerator for several days before cooking. It is important to ensure that the turkey is kept at a safe temperature to avoid any risk of foodborne illness.

9. Can leftover turkey be used in other dishes?

Yes, leftover turkey can be used in a variety of dishes, such as soups, stews, casseroles, and sandwiches. It is important to ensure that the leftover turkey is stored in the refrigerator and used within a few days to avoid any risk of foodborne illness.

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