So it turns out, unsurprisingly, that we have always been a nation of gluttons when it comes to Christmas. But some of the quirkier traditions have fallen by the wayside. I took a fascinating festive foodie journey through 500 years of food and here’s what I discovered…


1. In contrast to the – what some may call – excessive eating and drinking that takes place in the run up to Christmas today, our ancestors would fast throughout advent, breaking their fast on Christmas morning with real mince pies or Christmas pudding – originally a sweet haggis.

2. While the turkey takes pride of place on our dinner tables, we used to eat a whole range of birds, including sparrows, larks, woodcocks and even cygnets, which were fattened up for Christmas!

3. There are two forms of feasting. Number one: service a la francaise – buffet-style feasting – the table often used to be gendered with men’s and women’s food split. Number two: service a la russe – food is brought to the table in courses and served individually.

4. White bread used to be a luxury, and considered a special treat which the poor would only get to eat on Christmas day. How things have changed.


Old school hot chocolate and wine tasting

Old school hot chocolate and wine tasting

5. Chocolate was drunk cold – not eaten – and would be heavily spiced, for example, with chilli and cinnamon. People believed it was an aphrodisiac and could turn you into a nymphomaniac. We suggest you avoid ahead of the work Christmas parties…

6. The humble cuppa was considered a cure for everything, and served as green tea with milk and sugar. A feminine and domestic drink, the woman with the key to the tea caddy was thought to be in control of the house!

7. Contrastingly, coffee was associated with men and linked to impotence. Brits were also thought to be one of the first commercial nations as business could take place in coffee houses without the King knowing.

8. Physician, and fellow of the Royal College, Dr Christopher Merrett helped invent sparkling wine – which must mean wine is good for you, right?

And be merry!

Can you guess what these were used for? Read on to find out!

Can you guess what these were used for? Read on to find out!

9. We used to celebrate all 12 days of Christmas, with the last day traditionally the most important, celebrated with a raucous party where the world was ‘allegedly’ turned upside down, and anyone could become King or Queen for a day! Christmas cake was also originally called ‘Twelfth Cake’, and eaten on its namesake.

10. Chocolate Yule Logs used to be actual logs or small trees that were burnt from Christmas eve through to the 12th day.

11. Back in the day, you could pay for a tour of Windsor castle to watch the royal Christmas dinner being prepared, or watch the King eat his dinner. What a right royal tease!

12. And finally, my favourite fact… Our ancestors used to make ice cream sculptures shaped like bundles of asparagus and eggs in egg cups! Why? Who knows!

Thanks go to The Royal College of Physicians for hosting us at its 500 Years of Festive Food event this December.

Find out more about the event here.

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