What one wouldn’t associate with an ethnic Christmas meal is a turkey. Well sure it is the quintessential Christmas bird throughout most of Europe and almost all of America but just not the fit in India save in a few expat and Anglo-Indian households. But, think of a better white meat alternative to red meat fit for a full sized Indian family, chicken being too much of a staple to grace a Christmas meal.
Enter: turkey. Its minimum 3 kilogram weight might be intimidating but that’s the thing, you only need one bird to have plenty to go around for an average 4 member family. It also makes a versatile leftover.
One does need an element of tradition to urge them to incorporate anything to their Christmas meal and I might be biased that way for a turkey dinner reminds me of my great grandmother. This was during the British Raj in India and she worked as the head cook for an English family in a bungalow which I still pass by every day, though it is in shambles now.
These were stories passed down from my grandmother to my mother and then to me. My mother told me that the family comprised of the husband, wife and their little son. And they had a team of ten people as the Help. Each day a new dish for each meal and leftovers get thrown away no matter how much.
She would say that come Christmas, it was like in the movies now. Apparently, my great grandmother would leave home before light on Christmas Eve to make arrangements for the grand Christmas dinner. It was a dance of perfection—the right bird from that particular place, the marinade that has to be made only by her at the right time so it soaks it all up just enough, the wine selection waiting to be popped and lastly the accompaniments that get prepped the last.
Come Christmas day, the bird was prized possession cooked on tedious watch in a clay oven placed at the center awaiting the father to carve it while the she watched from the screens. This was her moment of truth she would say apparently – to see if 2 days’ effort had paid off. The sigh of relief when he cuts through the browned crispy skin and the meat slides off the side of his knife like butter to reveal the pale pink flesh was worth it all she’d say.
The rest of the evening that would last for a couple of hours she was not required for and so she’d leave to return home where her family was waiting for her. You see, every Christmas, my great grandmother was absent from our home, and would only return at around 8 in the evening. So, my grandfather having heard how the head of the house carves the turkey and how it was a symbol of Christmas celebration at her workplace, to appeal to my exhausted grandmother, one day decided on making a turkey of his own for Christmas. He’d waited for hours for her to return and carve it – a way to say that she was the true champion of the household. How I’ve wondered about that dinner and about the exchanges my great grandparents would’ve had and about the love between them that had manifested in the form of a turkey.
My family has since, had a turkey dinner for every Christmas in honour of my great grandparents who’d carved a tradition for themselves in their little world. It was our tradition for reasons uncommon but then again, what is tradition but remnants of stories we hold dear.