When you think of turkey and the holidays, it usually makes you think of Thanksgiving. That is the way it is in America, at least.
Thanksgiving is "Turkey Day," so it was a bit surprising when I noticed that Christmas Turkey is also a tradition, but it seems to be a tradition around the world.
At Thanksgiving, America celebrates the Pilgrims. However, other countries don't care about the Pilgrims! Plymouth Colony did not occur in their backyard!
Turkey is native to the American continent and was eventually taken to Europe.
the first Turkey showed up in Europe when Spain brought one back from the New World in 1519. William Strickland would then bring the first Turkey to England in 1526.
They did not arrive in Europe until the 16th century, so how did they get the name Turkey? There are some theories to this. From Why Christmas:
One theory says that the first settlers in the Americas thought that turkeys were a type of large guinea fowl (a bird from Africa that they would have been used to eating in Europe). Guinea fowl were imported into Europe by Turkish traders in Constantinople (now called Istanbul). Back then, anything 'exotic' often had the word 'Turkish' or 'Turkey' put in front of it because the items often came through/via the country of Turkey. Guinea fowls were often called 'Turkey coqs' or 'Turkie Hennes' (both meaning 'Turkish/Turkey birds'), which became shortened to 'Turkeys,' and so they gave the same name to the new bird they saw in the Americas!
Another theory is that, although turkeys originally came to Europe in Spain, they were mainly imported into Europe via the Turkish traders in Constantinople. So they were known as 'Turkey coqs'. And again, over time, they also just became known as 'Turkeys.'
That is how English-speaking countries got the name Turkey. However, many countries call these famous birds by a different name:
- Russia - Indjushka
- France - Dinde
- Poland - Inyczka
- Arabic - Diiq Hindi
- Turkey - Hindi
All of these words mean from India or bird of India or something related to India. This would imply that the turkey was originally from India. However, that is not the case because they are native to the American continent.
So, how did inherit that meaning throughout the different languages?
What did Christopher Columbus call the Americas?
The answer is the West Indies. He died thinking he had found a new pathway to India. So, when the birds eventually made it to Europe, it was still believed by many that these birds were coming from India.
It was not until Amerigo Vespucci that the Americas were recognized as a different continent.
The exception is that Portugal calls Turkey a 'Peru' because they brought it from Peru. Portugal did not follow Columbus's lead because they had already created a trade route to India through Vasco da Gama.
However, Pedro Alvares Cabral discovered Brazil, and the Portuguese would continue to explore the area, which would lead to them bringing many South American resources back to Portugal. This would include the turkey!
18th Century and Beyond
Turkey's exploded in population throughout Europe and quickly became a staple at dinner.
By the mid-19th century, Turkey had become the go-to food for Christmas Dinner in England. An example of this occurs in Charles Dickens's story 'A Christmas Carol' when Bob Cratchit and his family sit down to eat a Christmas Goose.
Then Ebeneezer Scrooge has his visits in the night and wakes up a changed man. One of the first things he does is buy a big turkey and take it to the Cratchit family. This was because Turkey was viewed as more important than the goose at Christmas.
Turkey remained pricey for families until World War 2, when farming became more efficient, and prices went down. This is when Turkey went mainstream during Christmas.
My favorite movie scene involving the Christmas Turkey comes from the great Christmas Classic National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation: