The history of the Christmas ham

IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR SMITHFIELD - Smithfield bonless hams and pork tenderloins are unloaded as part of the Smithfield Helping Hungry Homes donation 200,000 servings of protein to the Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana Friday, Oct. 14, 2016 in Indianapolis. (AJ Mast/AP Images for Smithfield)
IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR SMITHFIELD - Smithfield bonless hams and pork tenderloins are unloaded as part of the Smithfield Helping Hungry Homes donation 200,000 servings of protein to the Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana Friday, Oct. 14, 2016 in Indianapolis. (AJ Mast/AP Images for Smithfield)

(MEDIA GENERAL) — Christmas traditions differ from family to family. Every household does something unique. The Christmas dinner is one of them. Whether it is turkey or pasta or some foodie recipe that breaks down a Christmas meal into “its essence,” the tradition for many American households is a Christmas ham.

Turkey and goose also have their historical ties to the holiday, but ham actually has a history that spans more than 15 centuries!

The history of the holiday ham, like Christmas, has been adopted from other winter celebrations. Sometime in the fourth century, Pope Julius I established December 25 as a day to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. He selected the date not because it was Jesus of Nazareth’s actual birthday but because many cultures already held celebrations around that time for the winter solstice. By connecting Christmas with other celebrations, they also adopted some of their traditions, including the infamous ham.

Wild boar was a popular food for feasts for many European cultures in early centuries. Germanic pagans ate ham during their Yuletide celebrations, a festival honoring the mythical Wild Hunt and praying for fertility. Norse cultures also ate boar as a tribute to Freyr, a god of fertility, prosperity and fair weather.

As Christianity spread across the world, so too did Christmas and the Christmas ham, making it an international tradition.

Even today, ham is consumed for holiday feasts all across the world, with their own unique twists.