In these unusual times, Christmas seems the only ‘safe place’ for custom and ritual. But even this tradition cannot escape controversy. Do we celebrate it at all? And, if so, do we do it with any of the usual religious symbols, or in a more general, humanistic way?
In our house, now that I, an agnostic Jew, have succumbed to the idea of celebrating the birthday of the son of God, the arguments focus on food. My husband Karl, who isn’t at all traditional, wants to pass on to our two sons something directly connected to his own childhood. ‘Don’t poncify Christmas,’ he says if I suggest anything remotely inconsistent with the turkey-stuffing-potatoes-brussels of his early years in Northern Ireland.
To be fair, I see the point of holding on to food traditions when they are genuinely rooted in a personal or national story. Food is a great caretaker of memory. That is why our only change from tradition is a few pomegranate seeds on the sprouts.
I also accept that one big thing in the centre of the table enhances and focuses the feast. It needn’t be a turkey – today’s lamb shoulder does a very good job. This Feast is all about the savoury main events (desserts are next week), from Anna Jones’ squash tart to Felicity Cloake’s perfect ham, and Fiona Beckett has a wine recommendation for everyone’s recipes. Whatever you do, though, eat, eat some more and be very, very merry.