It’s the most wonderful time of the year … for our palates I Maureen Good

With the holidays just around the corner, this time of year generally centres, around (among other things), the preparation and consumption of traditional dishes.

With Thanksgiving in the US, Christmas and Hanukkah celebrations, and then to China for the Chinese New Year, the different foods prepared and enjoyed during these festivities have their own historical significance and cultural underpinnings, communicating joy, unity and all round enjoyment. These recipes are both ingrained in and reflect certain specificities of the cultures within which they exist.

Having experienced two culturally specific versions of Christmas in France and England, it surprised me how two countries so intertwined in their history, geography, and religious backgrounds, can have such different ways of ‘doing’ Christmas!

I noticed with some surprise the rigor with which English households celebrate Christmas, compared to the more relaxed French approach, a contrast most clearly illustrated by food.

Whilst French households evidently have their own individual customs (even the traditional turkey can be abandoned in favour of fish or other poultry), the English Christmas dinner is, in most households, reproduced each year with astonishing precision, from the turkey and stuffing, to the roasted vegetables, cranberry sauce, and traditional Christmas pudding; a ‘long-awaited yearly event’ in which the whole country takes part, contrasted to France’s ‘occasion to eat an elaborate meal, designed to taste’.

Both retain that element of celebration, indulgence, and plenty of decadence, yet these two distinct approaches illuminate interesting differences between the cultures, where traditions are adopted in divergent ways; the French revolutionary spirit coming to the fore with the gentler aspect of English convention (not to mention the different culinary heritage of each country).

What traditional holidays do you celebrate? Does the food you eat reveal anything thought-provoking about your culture?


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