Capons and turkeys
You have all had enough of them by now – or maybe you haven’t touched one at all, going by the result of a survey published a couple of weeks ago in Malta Today. Apparently, if you’re working class you’re not likely to have had turkey for Christmas, and if you’re a highish earner, you’ll have had nothing but.
On the face of it, the choice of what to roast for Christmas seems through this survey to be linked to money, but I don’t think it is. Turkey is pretty cheap in these days of factory farming when the birds are mass produced in their millions specifically for the Yuletide market.
It’s really all about habits: the thing with birds is that if you’re not in the habit of cooking a particular species, then you just stay away from it. How many of us roast duck or goose on a regular basis? To many Maltese families, turkey remains, even today, as alien a bird as pheasant or partridge would be to the rest of us.
If the preference for turkey has anything at all to do with earnings, it’s just that people in a particular bracket tend to have grown up accustomed to the bird or have been otherwise exposed to it as something they have actually seen cooked and eaten rather than just frozen in a supermarket chest.
Our middle classes, whether they were pro- or anti-British or just indifferent, tended to adopt the most conspicuous customs of the British during colonial days, precisely because they were exposed to them.
When the English began to eat turkey in greater numbers rather than the more customary goose they ate until the early 20th century, we did too, never having bothered with the goose in the first place.
Yes, turkey was beyond the means of working class families, both Maltese and English, until fairly recent affluence and cheap birds made it affordable, but by then it must just have been too late to pick up the turkey habit, especially in families where – and this is something the survey failed to pick up – Christmas lunch is really no big deal and no special effort is made.
There are plenty of Maltese families like that, and they tend to be working class. It’s not because they have money problems now. It’s because the money problems of earlier generations meant that the traditional big lunch never became a tradition for them.
Now that they have the money, sitting down in a dining-room with turkey and all the trimmings after exchanging presents beneath the tree feels as false and alien as doing a samba on a palm-fringed Caribbean beach. I know quite a few families like this. Christmas lunch is just another Sunday lunch, if at all.
WHO STOLE BABY JESUS?
It is astonishing how seriously the ‘kidnapping’ of a hideous plastic effigy of the infant Jesus is taken by those who can’t seem to distinguish between cheap symbols and the real thing.
A bit of ugly plastic is nicked by pranksters who do it for the sport of seeing the reaction and all hell breaks loose. I can’t help thinking of what happened last year, when the dastardly thieves – who turned out to be teenagers, as expected – were made to confess and repent as though they were in China and had insulted Chairman Mao.
The newspapers don’t help, of course. They refer to the plastic baby effigies placed in cribs by the road as Baby Jesus. But it’s not Baby Jesus, is it? The whole point of celebrating Christmas is that we’re marking the idea that he would be around 2010 years old by now. It’s just a tacky piece of plastic, and its theft is a vote in favour of aesthetics.
Reading the internet comments is a bit of a revelation. Some people might think it’s worth whisking Baby Jesus off just to provoke that kind of hysteria.
One man suggests that a suitable punishment might be castration (women, with their motherly instincts, presumably wouldn’t do the nasty on a poor plastic baby). Another that all public Baby Jesuses should be connected to some kind of system that would electrocute those who try to kidnap them.
That’s the Christian spirit, indeed. And yet another thinks it a crying shame that we can afford CCTV cameras everywhere but can’t find the werewithal to position one over Baby Jesus on his roundabout. All this to protect a bit of plastic.
And then those who act in TV soaps like Ipokriti and Friefet, or whatever the latest ones are, are invariably taken aback because people who see them in shops and on the street can’t distinguish between the real persons and the characters they play, and address them as though they are Ziju Franz or Ermenegilda Zammit or Is-Sur Fons.
I’d rather not remember that all these people have a vote and help to decide my future, so happy new year.
This article was published in The Malta Independent on Sunday, 2 January.