This is a selection of seasonal letters from The Spectator’s 185-year archive, now online at archive.spectator.co.uk. The emblem to the right is by our cartoon editor, Michael Heath. It was his first drawing for the magazine, and appeared in 1959.
Spare the turkey
Sir: Of the thousands who within the next few days will be ordering their Christmas turkeys, are any aware of the fact that the useless custom that makes it the proper and correct thing to have its most useless head upon the dish condemns the poor thing to a cruel and lingering death, while but for this custom, its head would be cut off comfortably and at once, and death would be instantaneous? As it is, the barbarous mode of killing it, simply that its head may be preserved intact, is to make a slit in its tongue, then string it up, and leave it slowly to bleed away its wretched life, a process that lasts many hours. Too often we are powerless to prevent the suffering we may lament, but in this case the remedy is so simple, that surely no one, once aware of the fact, will ever again let the turkey’s head disgrace, not ‘grace’, the dish! Even while in the agonies of composition over this letter, a friend informed me that he was going to send me a turkey for Christmas, and as ‘out of the fullness of the heart the mouth speaketh’, my rather astonishing answer, instead of the thanks he naturally expected, was, ‘Be sure to have its head cut off!’ So one poor turkey at least I have rescued from a barbarous death, and the insertion of my letter in The Spectator will, I am sure, rescue many more.
18 December 1880
Sir: I enclose a ripe hedge strawberry gathered two days before Christmas. It indicates the mildness of the season, as a sharp frost would quickly cut both fruit and blossom. Last year, there were none to be found, owing to the preceding hot summer.
George S. Brown, Plymouth
4 January 1913
The true Christmas dinner
Sir: I wonder what sort of meal the housewives amongst your readers would say was a real British Christmas dinner. Most of them, I imagine, would decide on turkey; yet the fact is that turkey first came to Great Britain from across the Channel! In France a goose with apple sauce is the main dish; and in my own Italy we always (when we can afford it) eat turkey and sausages with chestnuts. The plum pudding is certainly British, and it is supreme (as, by the way, is mistletoe). The French, instead of Christmas pudding, will accept the poor substitute of an ice; while in Italy we eat panatone, which is a mixture of eggs, butter, sultanas and flour, baked and eaten cold. And will you let me add that it is a sacred principle with me that everybody should pass this one day at home? Perhaps that is because, since the age of nine, I myself have been out in the world earning a living.
22 December 1923
The proof of the pudding
Sir: With regard to the recommendation that Christmas puddings should be made entirely of Empire produce, I suspect that the housewife is still a true Free Trader. That is not to say that she necessarily prefers foreign produce. It merely means, to quote Mr Churchill’s famous definition, that she claims the right to buy ‘whatever she wants, wherever she chooses, at her own good pleasure, without restriction or discouragement from the State’; and I should be very much surprised if any housewife today would risk the quality of her pudding if she were to find that the best currants came from Greece, or would omit the vital orange and lemon juice if Empire oranges and lemons were not available. I sympathise with housewives who are being asked to pay twopence or threepence more for Empire than for foreign raisins and currants, and who are doubtless made by State-financed advertisement to feel unpatriotic if they refuse. I fear that the ‘Buy British’ tendency has been used in some cases by unscrupulous traders as an excuse to raise prices. What do the housewives say?
17 December 1927
Notes on nuts
Sir: In his ‘Country Life’ notes, Mr Richard Church asked if any reader could tell him how to preserve walnuts until Christmas. May I suggest trying a method successfully adopted by a relative, which proved highly successful last Christmas? Fill an earthenware jar up to the brim with walnuts, cover the top of the container with a piece of slate and bury the whole in the earth to a sufficient depth to allow a covering of ashes some six or seven inches deep. I found this method quite successful last year.
10 November 1950
Campaign for real trees
Sir: I may be out of date, but the most pathetic thing to me is the artificial Christmas tree. Surely it is the invention of a cynic. He was inspired, no doubt, by the fact that cotton wool passes well enough for snow, and it is, after all, the illusion that counts. I wish him well in the provision of illusion, but there is a certain pleasure to be had in decorating a Christmas tree and not a little to be had in breathing the scent of conifers while doing so. Without the evergreen, the true tradition of Christmas is missing. If the tree is a synthetic thing to be brought from the cupboard and dusted, one might just as well sit down to mock turkey. Conserve the young fir trees, says a writer to my daily newspaper. He had never heard of Scrooge, I suppose.
25 December 1955
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