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The Surprising History of the Holiday Ham


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Holiday Ham

Thinking about Christmas dinner already? We sure are. 

If you're like many families celebrating this year, a plump Christmas ham might be at your dinner table (although, we're pretty big fans of holiday turkeys as well...). 

But have you ever thought about the history behind this traditional Christmas meal? It just might surprise you.

The Ancient Origins of a Favorite Yuletide Entree

Would you believe that the holiday ham dates back centuries?

Wild boar was one of the more popular choices for pagan feasts hundreds upon hundreds of years ago. Both the Norse and Germanic pagan traditions ate boar at their celebrations, honoring fertility and prosperity. 

Norse cultures ate boar in tribute to Freyr, a god for whom the pig was sacred.

One of the popular pagan feasts, Yule, later grew to become synonymous with Christian Christmas celebrations, and the tradition of eating ham came along with it. 

In fact, much of the ancient Yule tradition is reflected in modern Christmas celebrations. 

12 Days of Christmas? Yuletide was a 12 day, midwinter feast associated with the winter solstice. Ever tried a tasty Yule Log cake? The original Yule Log was a giant log burned for the entire 12 days of Yuletide. And how about the classic carol, "Deck the Halls"? Its lyrics read, "Troll the ancient Yuletide carol," and "See the blazing Yule before us." 

So, as you're decking the halls and carving your ham, rest assured that you're enjoying ancient Yuletide traditions. 

How to Prepare Your Christmas Ham

While there are many different ways to prepare a ham, the most traditional recipes involve a brown sugar glaze. 

Boars prepared for Yuletide feasts were roasted with an apple in their mouth, but in modern times, we can achieve that sweet flavor with a tasty glaze and sliced apples or pineapples on top. 

Try out this recipe from The Spruce Eats for Baked Ham with Pineapple, a tangy Christmas favorite. 


  • 1 (5 to 7 pounds) smoked picnic shoulder (fully cooked)
  • 1 (15-ounce) can pineapple slices (in juice)
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar (packed, light or dark)
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 (10-ounce) jar maraschino cherries
  • Optional: whole cloves


  1. Gather your ingredients.
  2. Remove the skin from the ham.
  3. Place the ham on a rack in a baking pan, fat-side up, and cover loosely with aluminum foil. 
  4. Bake at 325º F for about 30 minutes a pound, or to 140º F on the meat thermometer. 
  5. Place a sieve or colander over a bowl and drain the pineapple. 
  6. Measure 1/4 cup of the pineapple juice into a saucepan. Add the brown sugar and honey to the saucepan and then cook over low heat until sugar is dissolved, stirring occasionally. 
  7. Remove the foil from the ham and score the fat in a diamond pattern. 
  8. Brush the ham with the pineapple-honey glaze mixture. 
  9. Arrange the pineapple slices and cherries in a pattern over the top of the ham, securing with toothpicks. Stud with cloves, if desired, and brush again with the pineapple-honey mixture. 
  10. Bake, uncovered, for an additional 30 minutes at 325º F, basting with the pineapple-honey mixture.
  11. Remove the ham from the oven and let it rest for 5 to 10 minutes.

Serve your ham with your favorite savory side dishes. Suggestions include garlic mashed potatoes, scalloped potatoes, rice, creamed spinach, green beans with mushrooms or pearl onions, roasted asparagus, green salad, and hot rolls with butter.

Cover and refrigerate any leftover ham. It will keep well in the refrigerator for several days.

Our latest issue of The Modern Producer came out just in time for the new year. Filled with news and features on the latest in the industry, it's both an entertaining and informative resource. Check it out today!

Check Out the Newest Issue of The Modern Producer


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