Why do we eat turkey at Christmas?

Did you know that around 87% of UK people surveyed said that Christmas isn’t complete without a turkey? But how did it become such a traditional Christmas dinner staple?

What’s in a name?

The proper scientific name for the turkey is Meleagris gallopava, which comes from the Latin words gallus, which translates as ‘chicken-like’.

When did turkey first arrive?

Contrary to popular belief, turkeys actually came from Mexico, and not Turkey. Turkey first arrived in Britain around 500 years ago, with geese previously being a popular alternative. The person who brought them over was William Strickland, who bought six of them from some American Indian sellers whilst travelling. He later sold them in Bristol for a tuppence. In 1720, nearly a quarter of a million turkeys were marched to London markets all the way from Norfolk.

Why turkeys?

Turkeys were preferred over the likes of chickens and cows as these had higher selling prices at the time and it was better to save the live stock by getting a turkey. It is alleged that it was Henry VIII who was the first English King to eat a turkey on Christmas Day, but this trend was really ignited by Edward VII.

However, it wasn’t until the 1950s that saw the turkey’s popularity and affordability overtake that of the goose. Before then, a turkey was seen as a luxurious item as only the privileged few had fridges to keep it in. In today’s monetary terms, it only takes an average of 1.7 hours’ worth of wages to buy a turkey, versus a week’s wage in the 1930s.

Popular turkeys

One of the most popular turkeys enjoyed at Christmas is the white feathered turkey. Originally, the breed was bronze coloured. Today, there are 43 different types of turkey, with the top three being the bronze, white and Norfolk black turkeys. It’s estimated that 10 million turkeys are enjoyed by Brits every year.

Turkey facts

  • The average Christmas turkey weighs 5.5kg.
  • Only wild turkeys can fly and they can run up to 20 mph!
  • Israel eats the most turkey in the world, with 13kg per capita (vs. the UK’s 4.8kg).
  • Adult turkeys have around 3,500 feathers.
  • The same person, Paul Kelly, has two turkey world records: the world record for plucking three turkeys in the fastest time (11 min 30.16 sec), and the world record for the fastest time to carve a turkey (3 min 19.47 sec).

Looking for an after dinner Christmas treat? Take a look at our divine range of traditional Christmas hampers!

Image by VICUSCHKA / Shutterstock.com

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