Why do we eat Christmas turkey?

In this article, we will answer the question “Why do we eat Christmas turkey?”, and where do turkeys come from?

Why do we eat Christmas turkey?

The origins of the turkey trace back to the 1500s or 1600s in the UK. before turkey, the goose was the most common bird of choice at the Christmas feast. This may be because birds reached their peak weights during the midwinter or the Christmas season. 

Since the turkey was expensive as compared to goose and chicken in the past so, British elites were the first ones to normalize the addition of turkey to the Christmas menu. Soon the turkey gained the reputation of a fashion statement at the Christmas dinner. 

Where do turkeys come from?

It might be surprising but turkeys are indigenous to the UK. As per the Chronicles of England, turkeys migrated to the UK in the early sixteenth century. 

Indigenous Mexicans were the first to domesticate the wild turkeys. The Norfolk Black turkey breed is considered a direct descendent of this early turkey breed. 

After 200 years of breeding in the UK, the Norfolk Black turkey moved back to America along with the European colonists. 

In the following years, the UK and the USA witnessed a reduction in the popularity of the turkey until turkey farming strengthened in the UK in the 16th century. Until the 19th century, the turkey had become the go-to dinner for Christian families around the UK.

What did we eat before turkey on Christmas day?

Due to the festivity of Christmas day, its ancient cuisine resembled the cuisine of most feasts and celebrations. Before turkey, boar was a popular Christmas dinner. 

From the Medieval to the Tudor times, stuffed boar was the star of Christmas dinner. The elite of the Medieval era served pottage – a thick stew- in a trencher. 

The popularity of the turkey as a Christmas meat grew rapidly. By the Georgian era, turkey was being eaten as frequently as a goose. By the Victorian era, the turkey had exceeded the popularity of any other meat being consumed at Christmas. 

Making the ‘turducken’ style Christmas pie became a trend in the Victorian era. This exquisite dish involves stuffing a chicken with a pigeon. The stuffed chicken is then stuffed inside a turkey. 

How many people eat turkey on Christmas day in the UK?

Unlike popular opinion, turkey is not that famous in the UK. A recent YouGov poll showed us that turkey was the Christmas dinner choice for only half of the respondents. Turkey was the least popular in London and the most popular in the Midlands and Wales. 

According to the poll, beef is second to turkey in terms of popularity, especially in the north of England and Scotland. 

According to surveys, only 8% of Brits opt for a vegetarian Christmas dinner. However, a total of 17% of the individuals between the ages of 18-24 go for a vegetarian Christmas dinner. 

How long can you eat Christmas turkey leftovers?

Christmas turkey leftovers last 3-4 days in the fridge and 2-3 months in the freezer. The following table shows an estimated shelf-life of different Christmas leftovers. 

Item Pantry Shelf-life in the fridgeShelf-life in the freezer 
Turkey, Goose or Duck — whole, cooked3-4 days 2-3 months 
Ham — baked at home, leftovers3-4 days 3-4 months 
Gravy — homemade1-2 days 2-3 months 
Cranberry sauce10-14 days 1-2 months 
Stuffing — cooked3-4 days 1-month 
Mashed potatoes or yams; green bean casserole3-5 days 10-12 months 
Cookies — homemade or bakery-purchased2-3 weeks 5-7 days if frosting or filling contains eggs or dairy products8-12 months 
Fruitcake — baked1 month 6 months 1-year
Eggnog— homemade1 day 6 months 
Apple pie — baked2 days 2-3 days after pantry storage1-2 months 
Wine, red or white — opened bottle3-5 days 1-2 months 
Bread— soft-crusted4-5 days 2-3 months 
Hard-crusted 1-2 days 2-3 months 

General tips for storing Christmas leftovers 

To extend the shelf-life of the Christmas leftovers, they must be stored correctly. Follow the tips below to make sure your leftovers are safe and delicious during storage.

  1. Refrigerate leftover turkey, ham, goose, and other meats, stuffing, gravy, and other cooked dishes.
  1. Trim the leftover turkey meat off the bones before storing it in the fridge or freezer. The meat and stuffing should be stored in separate containers for an extended shelf-life.
  1. Use multiple shallow containers to store Christmas leftovers.

Other FAQs about Turkey that you may be interested in.

Can you eat a turkey that has been frozen for 2 years

Can you eat wild turkey eggs?

Can you eat wild turkey?


In this article, we answered the question “Why do we eat Christmas turkey?”, and where do turkeys come from?