The Story of the Yule Ham

Years ago, an upscale grocer in our New York neighborhood put out a memorable flyer detailing “The 12 Roasts of Christmas.” It really opened my eyes to the many ways people celebrate the holidays with special meals; a quality roast always as the centerpiece.

Many holiday dinners follow family tradition, handed down and shared generation to generation. Ham is always a top pick. What’s the story behind the Holiday Ham and what culture originated this as the main part of traditional holiday meals?

As with many holiday customs, there is not one definitive explanation behind the Yule Ham. Here are some common historical accounts:

  • Christmas Ham predates Christmas itself, originating from a Roman mid-winter festival called Saturnalia, in which people ate boar, which ties it to modern-day England.
  • Norse mid-winter feasts were also celebrated by feasting on boar.
  • Germanic custom also ties boars to its seasonal celebration, now associated most closely with Saint Steven’s feast day, marked on December 26. In fact, the oldest Christmas carol The Boar’s Head Carol, p. 1521, was said to be sung at Christmas dinners in England, a custom still carried out today by some particularly in Britain.

If you’re of an English, Swedish or Finnish, or German descent, you may still carry forward traditions of your forefathers by baking a Yule Ham. Today, people in the Philippines and Jamaica also traditionally serve Holiday Ham, as do those in Australia. Plenty in the U.S. also serve Yule Ham as well.

But holiday traditions evolve over time (don’t get me started on our family holiday lasagna). Share with us your Holiday Ham custom, and how it originated.

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