What is the most common type of Christmas dinner in America?
November 26, 2017 4:14 PM   Subscribe

My wife and I were discussing Christmas dinners and I said that Turkey was the most common Christmas dinner in America. She said that she didn’t think so, that probably prime rib or ham were. She put a guess out that ham and prime rib made probably 3/4ths of dinners with turkey making up the rest. She looked it up but could find nothing. I couldn’t either and by the end we were both quite curious. Does anyone have info regarding this?
posted by ArthurBarnhouse to Food & Drink (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Google ngrams has lots of caveats*, but they say "Christmas turkey" is the clear dominant winner in its corpus for most of its history, compared to goose, ham, and prime rib. Goose takes second place, ham is a distant third, prime rib isn't even on the radar.

*This may more may not tell you anything about what is eaten in modern USA. It tells you what is written about in books published in English that Google has processed, YMMV, etc.
posted by SaltySalticid at 4:26 PM on November 26, 2017

It's far from scientific, but Buzzfeed does have a poll. I'm not surprised that turkey would be lower in the ranking than it is in the UK given how synonymous "turkey" is with "Thanksgiving" here.

I changed "christmas prime rib" to the more generic "christmas roast" in the Google Ngram link and it registered, but was still fourth.
posted by supercres at 4:34 PM on November 26, 2017

This Harris poll from 2015 asked lots of questions about holidays including what dish people most looked forward to for "the holiday season" (though not what they actually ate). Turkey was the big winner at 32 percent. Ham was 8 percent and prime rib roast/beef roast/steak was 2 percent.
posted by tiger tiger at 4:41 PM on November 26, 2017

I think it might be regional? My Hispanic grandmother was more inclined to do turkey (and tamales). My New England grandmother was more inclined to do roast beef. My boss at one accounting firm in Ohio gave us our bonuses in the form of enormous hams which I, a single person who was going to my grandmother's for Christmas, had no idea what to do with. Time a few years ago lead an article on the turkey-ham debate with:
Americans consume an estimated 22 million turkeys on Christmas. They also purchase an estimated 318 million pounds of ham around the holidays. A back-of-the-envelope calculation would suggest that turkeys, weighing in at an average of 15 pounds, are neck and neck with ham in total pounds consumed.
posted by Sequence at 4:49 PM on November 26, 2017 [3 favorites]

The 22 million turkeys consumed in the US on Christmas is pretty commonly cited and the National Turkey Federal says 88% of Americans responding to their survey eat turkey on Christmas.

I have never in my nearly 50 years as an American seen anyone serve turkey on Christmas
posted by crush at 4:53 PM on November 26, 2017 [10 favorites]

Don't know about the overall trend, but I suspect it clusters around socioeconomic classes. Lots of people have chicken instead of turkey even on Thanksgiving because it's less expensive. So I would imagine chicken dinners are a big one, but you probably won't see that showing up in ngrams because we don't like to write about the cultures of poor people. Data points: my family can afford turkey once a year, so we have it on Thanksgiving, but have chicken on Christmas. My partner's family generally can't afford turkey so they usually have chicken on Thanksgiving (I can remember one turkey in 5 years) and whatever's on sale for Christmas (sometimes ham, sometimes chicken, but I've yet to see a turkey show up).
posted by brook horse at 5:09 PM on November 26, 2017 [6 favorites]

Mod note: OP is looking for statistics or studies, not anecdata.
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 6:18 PM on November 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

You might be interested in "The Ideal Christmas Dinner" by Cathy Kaufman if you have access to JSTOR. I haven't read it and I don't know if it contains the answers, but here's the abstract:

Christmas dinner emerged for the first time as an important and distinctive meal in mid-nineteenth century America, fueled by changing attitudes towards the Christmas holiday, changing meal patterns, and the need to unify Americans after the Civil War and to assimilate waves of immigrants. Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol provided an ideal template for meals centering on turkey and plum pudding, and that model has continued to inform many middle and working class tables. But by the end of the nineteenth century, cookery writers for the more affluent market began to disdain turkey at Christmas, and the uniform tapestry of Christmas foods began to unravel. Christmas dinner in twentieth-century America became more a statement of class than of national identity.
posted by wintersweet at 6:54 PM on November 26, 2017 [4 favorites]

crush: the thing you linked to says that 88% have turkey on Thanksgiving, not Christmas.

Putting together the two facts from there:

88% of Americans surveyed by the National Turkey Federation eat turkey on Thanksgiving.
46 million turkeys are eaten each Thanksgiving, 22 million on Christmas and 19 million turkeys on Easter.

I'd guess that 88% * 22/46, or about 42%, of Americans eat turkey on Christmas. (Obviously there are some big assumptions here, most notably that each Thanksgiving turkey is feeding the same number of people as each Christmas turkey.)

I have never eaten turkey on Christmas. Come on, we just had turkey at Thanksgiving! This year we had chicken on Thanksgiving, because there were four of us and what would we do with a whole turkey? It went so well that I think if I ever host a bigger Thanksgiving I'll just make a lot of chickens.
posted by madcaptenor at 6:38 AM on November 27, 2017

The Portuguese and Italians in New England do fish on Christmas, if I remember correctly. Not sure what kind of fish. Codfish maybe?
posted by KazamaSmokers at 10:27 AM on November 27, 2017

In Texas and New Mexico (and probably other places) the traditional Christmas dinner is tamales.
posted by MexicanYenta at 10:40 AM on November 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm an American with German parents. We used to suffer through goose for Christmas. Too tough! Too raw! Too hard to get! At the age of 12 and after having run through years of geese and a number of British novels, I went, "How come we don't have roast beef & Yorkshire pudding for Christmas?" And lo & behold, this new tradition has lasted some 40 years & continues because, damn! Roast beef & Yorkshire pudding rules!
posted by Wylie Kyoto at 12:30 PM on November 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have never in my nearly 50 years as an American seen anyone serve turkey on Christmas

Well, I in my over 60 years as an American have never seen prime rib served on Christmas -- it's ham and turkey all the way.
posted by Rash at 11:06 PM on November 27, 2017

Growing up in the Midwest with parents from New England, we usually had turkey. I can recall duck and goose as experiments that were not repeated. At some point, we started having roast beef, because Yorkshire puddings. Ham was for New Year's Day.
posted by theora55 at 6:12 AM on November 28, 2017

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