The Real Reason People Eat Ham On Christmas

If you're anything like the majority of people who recently responded to a Mashed survey asking folks what their favorite classic Christmas dish is, then you enjoy sitting down to a big, juicy ham during the holidays: 36% of respondents said that this pork leg — honey-glazed, to be specific — ranks number one for them. And whether you love that sweet-salty glaze, or are partial to a spiral-cut or dry-cured ham, you're likely aware that dining on Christmas ham is a tradition that seems as old as time.

Sure, you've probably attended a Christmas dinner whose star was a different protein, prime rib, say, or even roast goose. But there's just something about ham that screams "holidays," right? And as it turns out, this Christmas tradition is a longstanding one — and we're talking longstanding in the sense of a couple millennia. Read on to find out when — and where — this holiday custom got its start.

Christmas ham dates all the way back to pagan times

If you've ever dug your fork into a rich, salty ham on Christmas, you're not alone: according to Morten Williams supermarkets, Americans purchase around 318 million pounds of ham over the winter holidays. Ham just feels festive, especially when it's nestled next to other classic Christmas dishes such as scalloped potatoes and yeasty dinner rolls. But though a lot of us eat Christmas ham in these modern times, is the classic dish as traditional as it seems?

The answer is a hearty yes. According to Food Republic, eating ham over the holidays might trace its roots all the way back to pagan, aka pre-Christian, times. The Norse god of the harvest, Freyr, who was celebrated in the Scandinavian countries (via Religion Facts), was said to prefer the sacrifice of a wild boar (via Food Republic). When pagan European countries were converted to Christianity, this porky meal was linked to St. Stephen, whose feast day is December 26th.

While modern-day pork is a far cry from wild boar, the tradition evolved over the centuries to the current incarnation of hams, whether it be a brined ham, a dry-cured ham, or an uncooked, uncured fresh pork leg (via Taste of Home). As for us, we'll take a slice of any of 'em, as long as they're basted in a tasty honey glaze.