Right treats for the right fests
<p>What makes a food festive? I imagine that it is the association with a festival. For instance, Muslims have Seviyan on Eid. Christians celebrate Easter by decorating Easter eggs. And sometimes, festivals are centred on food. The German Oktoberfest often strikes me as just another excuse to drink lots of beer and eat many sausages!</p> <p>But the thing to remember about festive foods is that they are not always what they seem. Take the turkey served at Christmas for instance. We think it is a global tradition because that is how we celebrate it in India but the truth is that the turkey at Christmas is really a British thing --- and that is where we got it from.</p> <p> </p> <p>In America, for instance, the turkey is not a Christmas dish. The Americans eat turkey at Thanksgiving, a peculiarly American festival that nobody else in the world seems to understand. (The Americans also use pumpkin for Halloween --- but they prefer to decorate pumpkins rather than eat them!) In Australia, where the weather rules are turned upside down, Christmas comes at the height of their summer so they prefer light seafood to the heavier turkey.</p> <p> </p> <p>And often, festive foods are hard to reconcile with the festivals they are supposed to represent. Take Easter, for example. Good Friday marks the crucifixion of Christ and Easter Monday, his resurrection. So why, you may well ask, is there an Easter bunny? What has any of this got to do with eggs?</p> <p> </p> <p>The answer is that Easter was superimposed on a much older Pagan (pre-Christian) fertility festival.</p> <p><br /> The Bunny and the eggs are fertility symbols that don’t really fill in with the crucifixion resurrection story.</p> <p> </p> <p>But what about the festive foods we eat at our own events? Why must there be champagne at an anniversary? Why must every birthday be marked with cake?</p> <p><br /> I’ve been searching high and low and there is one answer to these questions. I imagine the champagne-for-celebrations thing was pushed by the champagne industry as a way of boosting business. As for birthday cake, though there are attempts to claim that the tradition dates back to the ancient Romans, the truth is that this is a Western European idea that only really took off a century or so ago when industrial baking made cake affordable to most people.</p> <p><br /> It isn’t true that everybody celebrates birthday with cake. I was recently in Korea and discovered that they celebrate birthdays with a soup. In Amsterdam, they serve little tarts. The Chinese have a special dim sum. The Americans like cake but ice-cream is an integral part of birthday celebrations.</p> <p> </p> <p>So here is my view. Because there are no real rules when it comes to festive foods and because those that exist vary so much from year to year and country to country let’s throw the conventions out of the window and make up our own rules.</p> <p> </p> <p>Birthday food, I believe, should be seasonal. You go to the market, you see what fruits are in season during your birthday month and you celebrate with fresh fruit. If you like something heavier, you can make fruit pie.</p> <p> </p> <p>As for religious festivals, well that’s up to you and how religious you are. But don’t feel obliged to eat turkey at Christmas --- the vast majority of the world’s Christians don’t. (Only the Brits do.) As for Holi, have the bhang thandai (it would be a shame to miss out on that) or anything that seems festive.</p> <p> </p> <p>And as for Diwali, it marks the beginning of a new year for many Indians. So eat something nice. And remember what you eat on New Year is something you will keep eating for the whole of that year --- that, at least, is the superstition.</p> <p> </p> <p>What constitutes “something nice”? Well whatever you like. That's the point of a festival, isn’t it? To be happy!</p>
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