Stephen Jardine: Christmas joy and tragedy

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THE big day is almost here. If you ever doubted we are a nation of foodies, the next 48 hours will change your mind as supermarket queues stretch into the distance and fridges overflow, ready for the greatest feast of the year.

Like most of our festive season traditions, we owe the modern Christmas dinner to the Victorians. They introduced the turkey as the centrepiece of the meal, and it was quickly adopted as a cost-effective way to feed the whole family.

During wartime, rationing took its toll with mock turkey made with cabbage on the menu along with Christmas puddings using carrots instead of dried fruit. Since then, we’ve never looked back, and the Christmas meal has become more and more extravagant.

This year highlights include the Heston Blumenthal Baked Alaska, available from Waitrose for £12.99, and Sainsbury’s £15 Belgian Chocolate and Caramel Cake.

For the ultimate indulgence, there is Marks & Spencer’s Four Bird Roast containing turkey, goose, duck and chicken and costing a hefty £120.

To most, that is a bit extravagant, to some it is what they live on for a week.

This Christmas, 2,000 Scottish children will sit down to a meal provided by a food bank. In a reflection of the hard times facing many, a leading charity is having to double the number of food parcels it hands out.

These aren’t extravagant hampers filled with luxurious treats, but simply the bare essentials. The people receiving them are those in the greatest need and Christmas is when they feel it most.

Identified as vulnerable by police, social workers or doctors, they are issued with vouchers which can be redeemed at the food bank for a box containing three days of emergency supplies. The contents have been donated by schools, churches and the public.

In Scotland, the Trussell Trust runs 14 food banks, with two operating in Edinburgh, a city with five Michelin- starred restaurants.

With rising food and fuel costs, redundancies and static incomes, the trust estimates it will have fed 200,000 people nationwide during 2012. At any time of the year that would be shocking, at this time of year it is tragic.

Of course, we should enjoy the Christmas feast. It is a potent symbol of the way food can bring us together and spread joy. But this year let’s also remember those less fortunate who struggle to put a meal on the table on Christmas Day and every other day.

Laden with gifts and goodies, we walk past them in the street, but right now they need our help.

Thanks to charity donations, they won’t go hungry this Christmas but let’s also keep them in our thoughts and our hearts. To you, and to them, have a very happy Christmas.