The Great British roast dinner is one of the ultimate food traditions to be enjoyed in the UK, we all know that. But it turns out that the existence of the traditional Sunday roast as well as a Christmas roast causes some confusion.
Believe it or not, as what you might call British food experts, one of the most common questions we get asked is this: “what’s the difference between a Sunday Roast and a Christmas Dinner?” To which, we reply:
A Christmas dinner is of course a more elaborate and festive version of the Sunday roast, with the main differences usually being turkey, Brussels sprouts and pigs in blankets being included on a Christmas dinner, but not typically with a standard weekly Sunday roast.
Clearly, there‘s a bit more to it than that. But first, if you’re somehow new to the idea of a Sunday Roast, it’s good to understand what this weekly British food tradition involves.
What is a Sunday Roast?
A Sunday Roast is the classic British meal that’s also known as a Sunday Lunch, Roast Dinner, or just a ‘Roast’. The very best Sunday Roast naturally involves a roasted meat (or meat alternative), served with stuffing, roasted potatoes, a selection of other vegetables, and lashings of gravy.
Why do we have Roast Dinners on a Sunday?
Roast Dinners are understood to have become a thing on Sundays when the poorer people of Britain became able to enjoy meat once a week. They’d pick up the already-cooked meat on their way home Sunday church service and tuck into it in the early afternoon. Eating a ‘Roast’ on a Sunday is a British food tradition that has stuck ever since.
Is a Roast Dinner eaten every Sunday?
Some British folk may sit down to a Roast every Sunday, and to them, we take our hats off. If you have the chance, why would you not? Realistically though, in the modern day, not everyone has a Roast Dinner every Sunday. But if you just can’t get enough of ‘meat and two veg’, then you might enjoy one every Sunday.
Is a Roast Dinner only eaten on a Sunday?
Sunday is the most traditional day to eat a roast dinner, but that’s not to say you can’t have one on any other day of the week. If you’re looking for a place to go for a roast dinner on Monday-Saturday, you’ll probably have to do a bit more searching than you would on a Sunday.
Sunday Roast vs Christmas Dinner – What’s The Difference?
The key difference between a Sunday roast and Christmas roast dinner is that people generally put even more effort into a Christmas Dinner than with a traditional Sunday Roast. Naturally, because it’s Christmas.
Similarly, more effort will likely be put into a Sunday roast than a roast cooked during the rest of the week (depending on the occasion, maybe).
But when it comes to the Sunday Roast vs Christmas Dinner specifically, there’s a few more differences you might notice when you sit down to both:
Number of Courses
Chances are that on Christmas Day, many a Brits’ roast (i.e. main course) will be eaten in between a starter and a dessert course, because it’s a special occasion. There might even be canapés too.
With a typical Sunday roast throughout the rest of the year, many people may not have a starter or dessert, or they may just have one or the other. There’s really no set rule, but this can be a difference between the typical Sunday Roast and Christmas Dinner.
Choices of meat for a typical Sunday Roast most often involves one of these:
- Gammon (Ham)
Other options could include game such as venison, rabbit or pheasant for example. Fish could also be used instead of meat, although roast beef really is the most traditional. Meat-free alternatives typically involve a nut-roast or any other number of vegetable based dishes.
Whereas, the meat used for a Christmas Dinner is traditionally (and most commonly) turkey. After turkey, most popular on Christmas Day are probably beef and goose. That said, it’s really down to individual preference.
After the meat, the additional items in a Roast Dinner are what we Brits refer to as the ‘trimmings.’ With both a Sunday Roast and Christmas Dinner, these ‘trimmings’ will typically be involved:
- Roasted potatoes
- Yorkshire Pudding
- A selection of vegetables
- Stuffing (e.g. sage and onion flavour)
At Christmas, the following trimmings are usually also found:
- Pigs in blankets (chipolata sausages wrapped in bacon)
- Brussels sprouts
That’s not to say you can’t enjoy pigs in blankets or Brussels sprouts with a normal Sunday Roast. Be our guest, although Brussels sprouts in particular are mainly eaten at Christmas due to seasonality.
As we mentioned, people generally go the extra mile at Christmas. So, different flavours tend to be added to things like the stuffing, vegetables and the meat itself. For example, festive flavours like cranberries, chestnuts or clementines may be used in the cooking. The odd splash of booze is usually added too.
“What about Yorkshire Puddings?” we hear you say. Do You Have Yorkshire Puddings With Christmas Dinner?
Officially, Yorkshire Puddings are only to be served with roast beef (if you’re following tradition). So, with a traditional turkey roast at Christmas, or alongside any meat other than beef throughout the year, there ‘should’ be no Yorkshire Puddings.
But let’s face it, practically everyone loves a ‘Yorkie’ in Blighty, so you’ll find tons of the things being eaten across the UK at Christmas, regardless of meat choice. Yorkshire Puddings are just a taste sensation, so most Brits find it hard to resist.
Alright, it’s a personal choice, blah blah blah, but traditionally, these condiments go with these roast meats:
- Cranberry sauce – Turkey
- Bread sauce – Chicken
- Mint sauce – Lamb
- Horseradish sauce – Beef
- Mustard – Beef
- Apple sauce – Pork
At Christmas, most people seem to adhere to tradition and cranberry sauce consumption skyrockets alongside turkey as you can imagine. Whereas, meat and condiment choice during the rest of the year is more varied.
A Roast Dinner generally takes a bit of time to prepare and cook (typically several hours) if you’re doing it properly. A Christmas Roast will normally take even longer than a Sunday Roast, as there’s usually more to get done (more people to cook for, more courses to prepare, laying the table all fancy, etc).
It’s best to do most of the preparation the day before, so you can mainly focus on the actual cooking on Christmas Day. Obviously it depends on whether you’re cooking a roast dinner for 10, two, or a hundred people, but a good Roast Dinner should take hours rather than minutes.
What Time is a Sunday Roast Dinner Served?
Traditionally, a roast Sunday Lunch was served after the morning church service, so usually around 1-2pm (with the meat roasting away in the oven throughout the morning). In the modern day, around the same time is still common, although there’s no set time. Some families may actually have their roast late afternoon or in the evening.
What Time is Christmas Dinner Served?
Christmas dinner is typically served around 1-2pm. This will vary from household to household, some opting for much later in the day, but most traditional and common is early afternoon.
Is Christmas Dinner Just A Posh Sunday Roast?
You could say that a Christmas Dinner is just a posh Sunday Roast. At the end of the day, each household does their roast slightly differently, although the key elements are generally the same, with a few festive extras at Christmas.
Most families will pull crackers before or during their Christmas roast and will be sitting around the table slightly more merry than on your average Sunday. In other words, Aunty Mildred will probably be sloshed.
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