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Christmas dinner: When turkey comes with Chinese noodles or jollof rice

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Getty / Akin Wright

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Akin says his typical Christmas dinner would be chicken and jollof rice

For Akin Wright, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a side of jollof rice.

“I know in TV and films there’s always turkey for Christmas dinner,” he tells Radio 1 Newsbeat. “But my family only started having turkey a couple of years ago.

“Normally it would be chicken or pork, but every year there would be jollof rice. It’s the best.”

The 21-year-old Manchester University student served up his favourite dish for his housemates’ pre-Christmas dinner, along with some vegan pigs in blankets.

Their meal might not seem that traditional, but for many families Christmas dinner involves much more than just turkey and Brussels sprouts.

But food that is an absolute must-have for some, might seem a bit weird to others.

For Russell Ho-Aitken and his wife Anne Marie, who live in London, Christmas dinner is a Chinese banquet.

His in-laws are from Hong Kong and he grew up in Manchester, so Christmas is about embracing each other’s cultural heritage.

Boxing Day is all about the turkey, while Christmas Day is always a feast of fish.

In Chinese culture, the symbolism is as important as the taste, so they eat abalone – a type of shellfish – for good fortune, black moss seaweed for prosperity and noodles for long life.

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Russell Ho-Aitken

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Russell and his typical Chinese Christmas dinner

“I’m not the biggest seafood fan, so sometimes I do wish there was something other than fish on the table,” Russell says.

“But we have a lovely eggs Benedict for breakfast, so I get my ham in there. We don’t eat dinner until 4pm or 5pm, but then we have a bottle of champagne in the meantime.”

For Russell and his family, Christmas is just an extension of how they live their life.

“When we have kids, they’ll learn Chinese but they’ll also support Man United. And at Christmas, they’ll have a Chinese meal, then a Christmas meal the next day.”

What we eat for Christmas dinner can often reflect our cultural identity but it’s also influenced by social media.

There are more than one million Instagram posts tagged #christmasdinner – showing meals with everything from mac and cheese to rice and peas.

“People share things a bit more, so you get more of an idea of what they’re actually eating,” says Leah Hislop, food director at Sainsbury’s Magazine.

For the record, her family’s Christmas essential is creamed leeks.

Brits also feel much happier about avoiding the festive foods they don’t want – rather than trying to stick to the exact Christmas dinner formula that was decided upon in the 1800s, says Leah.

“People tend to put on the table what are essentially their favourite things and what they couldn’t imagine Christmas without.

“So it might be pasta, mashed potato or fish. It might be a tradition passed down from older relatives, a favourite food from a home culture – or just something they know their children will safely eat.”

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Doug Cowan

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Doug and Holly cook their Christmas dinner on a BBQ

According to food trends agency The Food People, vegan and vegetarian food has been huge this year – which will influence some Christmas dinners.

But there’s still the hardcore meat lovers who love a bit of turkey.

Doug Cowan and Holly Catford, who founded Pit magazine, have been smoking their turkey and cooking Christmas dinner on their BBQ for the last few years.

“It looks like a proper Christmas dinner, but then when you taste it, you’ve got all these different smoky flavours that you wouldn’t normally get,” says Doug.

“The thing that everyone hates about Christmas dinner – the dry flavourless turkey – you get the exact opposite when you smoke it.”

And like with most Christmas dinners, Doug and Holly’s festive feast is all about eating with the people they love.

“Because it takes you ages, and you’re outside, you’re getting your hands dirty, it naturally lends itself to having friends round,” Doug says.

“It’s almost like ‘I really want to do this bit of cooking, I have to invite some friends round to eat it’.

“It’s inherently a social thing to do.”

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