News

Festive stories from Leicesters past

Christmas is coming and the geese are getting fat, so the popular rhyme goes - although for many it will be a plump turkey sitting upon the table during Christmas lunch.

Luckily, to aid those who are catering for friends and family, last year Dr Primrose Freestone and PhD student Giannis Koukkidis from our Department of Infection, Immunity and Inflammation examined food infection risks in the popular festive turkey lunch and its leftovers and provided top tips for avoiding food poisoning over the holiday period.

With lunch consumed and bellies full of sprouts and mulled wine, Christmas isn't complete without the obligatory mince pies. Thankfully, an historical recipe from 1804 unearthed by our Special Collections shows how the festive baked good has been highly regarded for centuries. While the News Centre hasn't personally baked a mince pie to these specifications the ingredients suggest a promising result:

1 lb meat
1 lb suet
½ lb currants
½ lb raisins
1 lb sugar
¼ oz mace
¼ oz nutmeg
¼ oz cinnamon
3 or 4 apples, finely chopped
Orange, lemon and citron peel

After finishing off your 19th century mince pie, you may start pondering about other old traditions while your eyes drift from the crumbs to the Christmas cracker next to your dinner plate. In 2014, Professor Julie Coleman examined how baubles, mince pies and more have been viewed and enjoyed throughout the centuries. She also explained how the Christmas cracker was invented by the Victorians in the 1840s and were once full to the brim with colourful sweets that would erupt like a modern-day piñata when pulled. Some would arguably prefer if this was the case today, rather than crackers being filled with yet another set of small screwdrivers and a dodgy Xmas joke about penguins.

Pulling a cracker feels more appropriate when Christmas songs are playing in the background. As it turns out, “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday” by glam rock band Wizzard was released in 1973, the same year that the band played in our Students' Union. Slade - whose famous track ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’ was also released in 1973 - also performed at the Students' Union, albeit a year earlier. Elton John of ‘Step into Christmas’ fame performed at the Students' Union in 1971, suggesting that Leicester has a reputation for attracting stars that would ultimately write Christmas classics.

With music, food and drink in abundance, Christmas can often be a time for drunken parties, rowdy festive shenanigans and embarrassing behaviour - but getting intoxicated at Christmas and causing mischief is not an exclusively modern phenomenon, according to researchers from our Special Collections. Last year the team unearthed a number of historical sources relating to Christmas during the 16th and 17th centuries, highlighting a variety of games that were played during the Tudor holiday season which had been banned at other times of the year and were associated with unruly behaviour.

So, however you spend your Christmas this year, be confident that you'll most likely be upholding traditions celebrated by people for hundreds of years.

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