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Christmas or Christmas Day is a holiday held on December 25th to commemorate the birth of Jesus, the central figure of Christianity. The date is not known to be the actual birth date of Jesus, and may have initially been chosen to correspond with either the day exactly nine months after some early Christians believed Jesus had been conceived, the date of the winter solstice on the ancient Roman calendar, or one of various ancient winter festivals. Christmas is central to the Christmas and holiday season and in Christianity marks the beginning of the larger season of Christmastide, which lasts twelve days.
Although nominally a Christian holiday, Christmas is also widely celebrated by many non-Christians and some of its popular celebratory customs have pre-Christian or secular themes and origins. Popular modern customs of the holiday include gift-giving, music, an exchange of greeting cards, church celebrations, a special meal and the display of various decorations; including Christmas trees, lights, garlands, mistletoe, nativity scenes and holly. In addition, Father Christmas (known as Santa Claus in some areas, including North America, Australia and Ireland) is a popular folklore figure in many countries, associated with the bringing of gifts for children.
Because gift-giving and many other aspects of the Christmas festival involve heightened economic activity among both Christians and non-Christians, the holiday has become a significant event and a key sales period for retailers and businesses. The economic impact of Christmas is a factor that has grown steadily over the past few centuries in many regions of the world.
Christmas dinner in the United Kingdom is usually eaten in the afternoon on 25th December. The dinner usually consists of roast turkey, although other poultry such as goose, chicken, duck, capon or pheasant are alternatives, served with stuffing, gravy and sometimes pigs in blankets, devils on horseback, cranberry sauce or redcurrant jelly, bread sauce, Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes (sometimes also boiled or mashed) vegetables (usually boiled or steamed), particularly brussels sprouts and parsnips, with dessert of Christmas pudding (or plum pudding), sometimes mince pies or trifle, with brandy butter and/or cream.
In England, the evolution of the main course into turkey did not take place for years, or even centuries. At first, in medieval England, a main course of boar was sometimes served. Through the 16th and 17th centuries goose or capon was commonly served, and the rich sometimes dined upon peacock and swan. The turkey appeared on Christmas tables in England in the 16th century, and popular history tells of King Henry VIII being the first English monarch to have turkey for Christmas. The 16th century farmer Thomas Tusser noted that by 1573 turkeys were commonly served at English Christmas dinners. The tradition of turkey at Christmas rapidly spread throughout England in the 17th century, and it also became common to serve goose which remained the predominant roast until the Victorian era. It was quite common for Goose "Clubs" to be set up, allowing working class families to save up over the year towards a goose before this. A famous Christmas dinner scene appears in Dickens' A Christmas Carol (1843), where Scrooge sends Bob Cratchitt a large turkey. The pudding course of a British Christmas dinner may often be Christmas pudding, which dates from medieval England. Trifle, mince pies, Christmas cake or a Yule log are also popular.
Most Christmas customs in the United States have been adopted from those in the United Kingdom (though others have come from Italy, France, Scandinavia and Germany). Accordingly, the mainstays of the British table are also found in the United States: roast turkey (or other poultry) beef, ham or pork, stuffing (or 'dressing') mashed potatoes and gravy, squash/mashed or roasted root vegetables are common. Common desserts include pumpkin pie, plum pudding or Christmas pudding, and mince pies. In the South, coconut cake, pecan pie and sweet potato pie are also common.
The centrepiece of a sit-down meal varies on the tastes of the host but can be ham, roast beef or goose, particularly since turkey is the mainstay at dinner for the American holiday of Thanksgiving in November, around one month earlier. Regional meals offer diversity. Virginia has oysters, ham pie, and fluffy biscuits, a nod to its English 17th century founders. The Upper Midwest includes dishes from predominantly Scandinavian backgrounds such as lutefisk and mashed rutabaga or turnip. In the southern US, rice is often served instead of potatoes and on the Gulf Coast, shrimp and other seafood are usual appetizers, Charlotte Russe chilled in a bed of Lady Fingers (called just Charlotte) is a traditional dessert, along with pumpkin and pecan pies. In some rural areas, game meats like elk or quail may grace the table, often prepared with old recipes: it is likely that similar foodstuffs graced the tables of early American settlers on their first Christmases.
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