Why Do We Eat Turkey At Christmas – The Interesting Truth

Turkey on Table with apples, salad, sides decorated in seasonal festive decor

Why is Turkey Eaten at Christmas?

An unimaginable number of families globally will tuck into a turkey during the holidays, without stopping to wonder ‘Why Do We Eat Turkey At Christmas?’. 

And when we say an unimaginable number, we really mean it.

During the holiday season, over 10 million turkeys are eaten in the UK alone! 

For many homes all around the world, this white-meat bird is an integral part of Christmas Dinner.

But why, and when, did it become such a crucial part of the big day?

It all started back in the 1520s when a Yorkshireman named William Strickland travelled back from North America, bringing 6 turkeys with him.  

Why people started eating them for the festive meal simply came down to trends.

There’s no real religious or festive association between the turkey-gobbler and Christmas. 

Turkey animal walking on grass

In fact, it was Henry King Henry VIII who first consumed turkey on the big day – and we all know how much he loved a feast! 

Consuming the infamous bird as part of Christmas dinner was then popularised by King Edward VII.

Despite it’s rising popularity, it wasn’t until the 1950’s that turkeys overtook the goose as the most popular poultry to eat on Christmas day. 

It took a while to become as popular as it is now because turkey was seen as a luxury for many centuries. 

Although there are some more affordable varieties these days, the festive bird can be anywhere from under £10 up to a whopping £100!

Of course, this depends hugely on how big the turkey is as the more expensive birds are usually much bigger. 

At Open For Christmas, we think that it doesn’t matter what your centrepiece is, as long as it can be shared.

So, lets find out why we eat Turkey at Christmas.

What Did People Eat on Christmas Before Turkey?

So if turkeys didn’t become popular in the UK until less than 100 years ago, what were people eating before?

This varied depending on where you were in the country. The south preferred to share a goose whilst in the North beef was the favoured meat. 

Turkey has popularised for Christmas Dinner so that farmers could preserve their livestock. Eating beef and chicken at Christmas would sacrifice the potential income from the milk and eggs the animal could produce. 

Looking even further back in time, Christmas tables would feature pheasant, wild boars head, swan and even peacocks. 

How to Choose the Perfect Turkey

To get the most succulent and tasty turkey, nothing beats a locally-sourced bird. 

Not only do they taste better, but locally reared birds have the added bonus of being better for the environment and support British farmers. 

Turkeys are the centrepiece of over 70% of UK Christmas dinners, so it’s worth investing in the quality and the knowledge that you’re supporting a local business.

We spoke to a real-life turkey farmer from Leicestershire, UK to ask how to choose the perfect turkey. 

His advice was, “Buy a locally sourced, slow-grown bird as the slower growth means you won’t get that dry breast meat associated with turkey. A bronze turkey is a good example of this.”

Turkey on Table with wine and candle decorated in seasonal festive decor

How to Know What Size Turkey to Buy

Whether you’re buying locally-sourced or a supermarket bird this year, it’s important to buy just enough turkey so there’s some leftover without having to eat turkey left-over variations for a week.  

We asked the turkey-farmer how much turkey is necessary, “About 0.5kg of whole turkey per person will be plenty, and allows for some cold meat for boxing day.”

When Should I Buy My Christmas Turkey?

Buying your turkey early can help keep your Christmas budget down. But most of us don’t have room in our freezers to preserve a family-sized fowl. 

The optimum time to buy a turkey depends on whether you’re buying from a supermarket or a farm. 

To get the freshest possible turkey, nothing beats locally-sourced. You can reserve your bird in advance and collect it a couple of days before Christmas. 

Supermarket turkeys may have been frozen and defrosted or been left in fridges for weeks before they’re brought home.

The turkey farmer explained, “If you buy locally often they will have a collection day in the days leading up to Christmas meaning you won’t have to store it for too long before it’s cooked and it will be fresh.”

Christmas Turkey Recipe

At Open For Christmas we think that for something as key to Christmas as the turkey, it’s best left to the professionals.

The top-ranked google searches for Christmas turkey recipes are by celebrity chefs such as Jamie Oliver, Delia Smith, and Raymond Blanc

One of the most popular professional chef recipes for cooking turkey is by Gordon Ramsay. 

Gordon Ramsay’s Christmas Turkey Recipe has simple flavours of lemon, parsley and garlic

You can watch how he makes it here:

What Utensils Are Needed for Roasting a Turkey?

If it’s your first year in charge of the holiday meal, there are a few things you might need. 

  1. Large baking-tray or roasting pan
  2. Meat thermometer 
  3. Turkey baster 
  4. Carving knives
  5. Large chopping board
  6. Gravy boat

What to Cook For Christmas Dinner Instead of Turkey

Whether it’s the increase of vegetarian and vegan eating habits or a desire to mix things up, turkeys are on the decline for being the most popular centrepiece at our dinner tables. 

Turkey gets a bad reputation for being a dry and flavourless bird. 

Although this doesn’t have to be the case, a lot of people choose more rich and flavourful alternatives to the festive meat. 

Turkey Alternatives for Meat-Eaters

Some popular meaty replacements include:

  • Beef wellington
  • Succulent roast chicken 
  • Sticky glazed ham
  • Roast beef joint
  • Seafood

Vegetarian and Vegan Turkey Alternatives

Unlike a few years ago, there are tons of non-meaty turkey replacements. And they don’t have to be boring or tasteless like some people believe. 

More and more people go for the vegetarian option at Christmas, even causing popular meat-replacements to sell-out close to the big day.

Make sure you don’t miss out by buying your plant-based centrepiece in good time. 

Nut roast in cooking pan -  christmas dinner vegetarian alternative

Here are some of our favourite flavour-packed turkey alternatives:

  • Nut roasts
  • Fake turkey, tofurkey or any fake meat
  • Potato cakes or sweet potato cakes
  • Roasted spiced cauliflower
  • Vegan or vegetarian lasagne
  • Tofu
  • Stuffed mushrooms 
  • Stuffing
  • Seitan
  • Mushroom wellington
  • Bean burger
  • Vegetarian or vegan pie
  • Curry
  • Lentil loaf
  • Vegetarian ‘meat’-balls
  • Ratatouille
  • Veggie shepherds pie 
  • Veggie pizza (why not!)
  • Stuffed peppers
  • Butternut squash stew

What do Different Countries Eat for Christmas Lunch? 

If the above options aren’t hitting the spot, how about trying out some Christmas lunch traditions from around the world. 

Some countries like to have their big meal on Christmas Eve whereas others save the feast for Christmas day itself. 

Either way, there’s sure to be a huge amount of delicious food to share and make memories around. 

Christmas Dinner in France

In France, at Christmas time they enjoy a luxurious holiday feast, including oysters and foie-gras and maybe even caviar. 

Christmas Dinner in the USA

A festive lunch in the US is probably most similar to a British Christmas dinner. They both share common items like turkey, roast potatoes, gravy and roast autumn vegetables.

However, some families, mainly for Jewish people in the US,  have a tradition of eating Chinese takeout on Christmas Eve, as they will be some of the only restaurants that stay open. 

Christmas Dinner in Portugal

Cod is a very popular dish in Portugal. There are large stalls in the supermarket piled high with fresh and salted codfish. They typically serve cod with potatoes and a huge range of delicious pastries, such as the traditional Portuguese Custard Tart – Pastéis de Nata.

Christmas Dinner in Australia

Due to the warmer December climate in Australia, holiday food tends to be salads, cold cuts and refreshing foods for a hot sunny day. Since Australians near the coast love spending Christmas day on the beach, seafood is a hugely popular choice. 

Christmas Dinner in Norway

In Norway, you might find roasted pork with potatoes and sauerkraut, or a more old-school steamed sheep’s head! 

Christmas Dinner in Germany

A lot of Christmas traditions in the UK and US originated in Germany, so there are many similarities between our festive menus.

Despite this, you’re unlikely to find a turkey on your plate on the big day. Instead, you might be eating duck, goose or rabbit, with a side of potato and dumplings. 

Christmas Turkey Gifts and Decorations

Personalised Turkey Place Card

Turkey as a Place Card on a table- Why do we eat turkey for Christmas - Open for Christmas

Help guests find their place at your autumnal dining table with these cute wooden pumpkin place names.

Do Not Disturb Too Much Turkey Socks

Do not disturb too much turkey socks - Christmas present - Open for Christmas

Specifically aimed at the designated Turkey Carver over the Christmas period this apron provides the perfect solution for a gift idea!

Apron Christmas Turkey Carver

Mens Apron with Christmas Turkey Carver On - Open for Christmas

Do Not Disturb personalised socks for anyone who’s had too much turkey on Christmas day and needs a nice, obligatory nap on the sofa!

Turkey Tree Decorations

Heart shaped turkey Christmas decorations - why do we eat turkey at Christmas - Open for Christmas

These handmade intricately painted birds make a charming decoration that really captures the essence of Christmas.

Thanksgiving Handmade Crocheted Turkey Coasters

Christmas crocheted turkey coasters - Open for Christmas

A set of four handmade crocheted turkey coasters great for the approaching holiday season. These little coasters will add a cute festive feel to any table and are great for Thanksgiving and Christmas. 

Why Do We Eat Turkey At Christmas – Final Thoughts

Wowee! Who knew there was so much to know about why we eat turkey at Christmas time. 

It seems like all around the world the main point of the festive meal is to be able to share some tasty food that brings everybody together. 

Whether you’re digging into a traditional turkey, trying out a mushroom wellington, or sampling a Norwegian roast pork remember – it doesn’t matter what you’re eating, but who you’re eating it with and the memories being made.

So from everyone at Open For Christmas, we hope you’ve enjoyed this post and will have the best Christmas this year and each one after that! 

Related Christmas Food Articles:

Why Do We Eat Turkey At Christmas – The Interesting Truth

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