“Go home and write a Christmassy article for the Swallows!” demanded my editor, holding a pellet-gun to my temple.  “And this time make it interesting!” she hissed, searching for a pellet. 

Trembling slightly, but relieved that the offices were pellet-free I slunk home to ponder. Where exactly do these Swallows originate from I wondered, which got me curious about what they normally eat when they feel Christmassy. When in doubt I consult my tried and tested The Duck ’n Fiddle’s Explanation of Everything, and once again it illuminated the murk.

For starters, the bird – swallow – also migrates south nowadays when it’s winter up north. Contrary to popular belief, they are called swallows after observing and imitating Willy Swallow, an intrepid Scotsman who started the southward trend decades ago. It caught on quickly and has become an annual event for both birds and humans. Apparently the weak Rand has nothing to do with it.

But where do these Swallows migrate from?

The most popular variety is the Brit, which has four species, depending on the colour of the rugby jersey they support. This apparently also changes their accents and terminology to the extent that they often don’t understand even one another. 

But whether they hail from blue, white, red or green territory, the traditional Christmas feast is the standard turkey, which has been disembowelled and then rudely rammed full of stuffing, which often tastes better than the fowl. Cranberry sauces, relishes and gravy, however, save the day.

Vegetables are equally dubious.  Boiled carrots, parsnips and potatoes make space for the ubiquitous and much-debated Brussels sprouts, so named to hoodwink children into eating at least something green on their plates, because the word ‘cabbage’ invariably induces face-pulling and fake retching. To youngsters, eating cabbage is as much fun as leaping onto a bike without a saddle. 

Out of morbid interest, pheasant, goose or boar were traditionally eaten until the French Jesuits introduced turkeys to Britain in the 1700s. Anyway, these days, depending once again on your colour preference, Christmas dinner is eaten either before, after, or conveniently during the Queen’s Speech at 3pm.

Swallows also hail from Europe. In France the Christmas meal is traditionally eaten in the wee hours after midnight mass on the 24th. It’s goose in Alsace, and turkey in Burgundy, but the chestnut, bread and herb stuffing gets shoved into both. Ham and venison are also a hit with cranberry sauce and relishes.

Starters can be foie gras on homemade breads, or escargots and oysters along the Brittany coast, liberally gargled down with dollops of sweet wine. Nothing quite like a Xmas hangover before dawn.

Oyster shucking when sober is delicate enough, but drunken revellers with razor-sharp knives create a steady flow of blood – and income – for local doctors stitching gashes and reattaching digits. Talking of culinary injuries, to avoid cutting your fingers when chopping vegetables, get someone else to hold the vegetable.

Spain and Portugal have fairly similar menus for Christmas Eve dinner before midnight mass. They stuff various things into the turkey like truffles, onions, cheese and ham, which once again are more palatable than the hapless bird.

In the Netherlands they cheat a bit. Their gift-giving and celebration – called Sinterklaas (St Nicholas) – happens on 5 December, mainly for the kids. The adults, however, still observe the 25th, and apparently wear clogs and eat cheese and tulip bulbs in their windmills. 

Ducks, geese and rabbits are common among the riff-raff in Germany, although the gentry enjoy bunging their turkey with apple and sausage stuffing. Red cabbage, sour or not, is a huge hit, and apparently cures sporadic flatulence, hair loss, ingrown toenails and bad spelling.

However, through all this frenetic researching (remember the pellet gun?), I discovered the most popular dish for the majority of Brits on Christmas Day or in fact any day is… Chicken Tikka Masala. From India. 

Hier hou ons net ‘n braai.

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