Sherburne History Center

Sherburne History Center
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Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Holiday Feasts: Why Turkey?

Thanksgiving marks the beginning of several celebratory feasts.
  The turkey day, Christmas, and New Year’s Day call for some type of feast and celebration. With the end of the Thanksgiving feast, I paused to wonder about the food I had just devoured.  Specifically, why turkey?  After a brief search, I discovered a variety of meats served during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.  Each of the centerpieces, whether they be turkey, goose, or pork; held a significant meaning to traditional diners. 

In the United States most holiday revelers held Turkey as the primary dish of a festive meal.  Whether at Christmas or Thanksgiving, the bird of choice remained the gobbler.  The wild turkey must be hunted and killed.  And so, early feasts celebrated the holiday and the hunting skills of family members.  As you move into the twentieth century, turkeys became domestic farm animals and more easily attainable.  Goose and pork, on the other hand, remained common farm animals.  Served often during the year, goose and pork failed to present a unique character expected at celebrations.

The goose, a domesticated bird and easy to raise, maintains a royal standing in feast days.  Folklore suggests Queen Elizabeth I while eating a roast goose, received the news of the defeat of the Spanish Armada.  Viewing this as a sign, she declared goose as the meat served at all holidays and celebrations.  Domesticated geese remain low maintenance farm animals.  Late each Autumn, farmers release geese to forage in the fields, fattening themselves for slaughter.  More common than turkeys, the slaughtered goose remains a succulent addition to the celebration.

Pork has its own unique place on the celebration menu.  Prior to the twentieth century, ham required extended time to smoke and cure.  Even today, it remains the meat of choice for Spring celebrations.  Often slaughtered in the late Autumn, particularly in the southern United States, pork ribs found a place in the holiday feast.

Whether from tradition, royal decree, or ease of food preparation, a variety of meats found their way into the traditional holiday feast.  Ham, turkey, and goose all represented some tradition during the holidays.  Now, if only someone could explain lutefisk to me.

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