Why do we eat turkey at Christmas? How did Xmas Day dinner tradition originate, when and where did it start

Turkey is very popular during Christmas time. (Getty Images)Turkey is very popular during Christmas time. (Getty Images)
Turkey is very popular during Christmas time. (Getty Images) | Getty Images

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The turkey was first brought to the UK in 1526

Christmas is a special holiday which brings families together around the world and while many people look forward to the act of giving and receiving presents - one of the most exciting parts is always the festive feast.

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When it comes to Christmas dinner there are many key components which make up the perfect meal and one of the most popular items for many families is turkey.

But where does the tradition of eating turkey on 25 December come from and when did it become popular?

Here is everything you need to know

Why do we eat turkey at Christmas?

Turkey is now seen as the centrepiece of many Christmas dinners and most people’s first choice meat during the festive season. But it wasn’t always the most common meat in the UK.

The tradition of eating turkey is believed to have originated from a Yorkshireman called William Stickland.

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Nearly 500 years ago in 1526, Stricktland acquired size turkeys from American traders while on his travels.

Before Turkeys came to Britain people often used larger birds such as geese, boars, chicken and cows during the festive period but these gradually became less popular.

Turkey became increasingly popular for farmers as they believed it would be a more cost effective method than other meats. Farmers benefited from keeping chickens and cows alive longer and were able to produce more eggs and milk than ever before.

While Turkey increased in popularity throughout the 16th century, it’s widely believed that King Henry VIII was the man that catapulted the meat into the public domain at Christmas.

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Henry swapped out his usual goose for a Norfolk Black Bird and by 1573 turkey started to reach more households.

When did turkey become popular?

Turkey grew in popularity in the 17th century, however it wasn’t readily available in the average family or household until the 20th century and it was seen as a relative luxury and a special treat to be served exclusively during the season of Christmas.

Turkey is thought to have become more readily available since the 1950s and it was at this point that it established itself as a staple in the UK. Prior to this common meats in the UK included roast swan, pheasants and peacocks.

What other meats are popular on Christmas Day?

It was recently estimated that around 10 million turkeys are consumed each Christmas in the UK, making it the most popular meat at Christmas time.

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While turkey is the dominant meat during the festive season, others such as ham, beef, chicken, goose and pork can also be popular additions to a Christmas banquet.

Alternative Christmas dinners

In recent years there has been an increased movement to promote veganism with campaigners and scientists all raising awareness on the benefits of a plant based diet.

Christmas can prove a challenging time to incorporate a vegan diet but there are plenty of Christmas dinner alternatives out there which are useful.

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