Mince Pies, Plum Pudding and Bustards (Christmas History 21)


A drawing of a bustard by Harrison Weir.

A travel journal was published in 1910, titled Winter Wanderings, by A. Per Lee Pease, M.D.  This was Dr Abraham PerLee Pease (1847-1926), son of Anson Pease and Eliza Pease (nee PerLee).  The volume collects his articles in The Pittsburgh Dispatch, in which he documented his world travels over the course of four consecutive winters.  The book also includes a previously unpublished account of a visit to Abyssinia (now Ethiopia), where he managed to have quite a traditional Christmas dinner, against the odds.

On Christmas Day the Emperor remembered our President and us handsomely, although the Abyssinian celebration of that anniversary occurs something like two weeks later. He sent for President Roosevelt two enormous elephant tusks, each 9 feet long and weighing together over 300 pounds, also two young lions, with attendants to accompany them to the coast. For Mr Skinner and the other officers he sent two superb spears of native make, with the heads cased in leather sheaths for the journey home; a sword the blade of which was made in Europe, with handle of bullock horn, sheath and belt of red leather; and a large shield of hipptpotamus hide profusely decorated with sterling silver. We had seen his courtiers with such shields and knew we were highly honored. We examined them with appreciative interest and realized the Emperor is the bon garcon he is represented as being.

We were told by members of the legations that he had never treated any body of men with as much consideration as he was showing us…

Christmas night the American officers dined at the British agency with Mr Clark. It was an expedition to get there, and he kindly sent a guide to conduct us by a different route than the one by which we had intended going, slightly shortening the distance of about five miles. There are no turkeys in Abyssinia, but there is a member of the ostrich family called the bustard, which when decapitated, plucked, deprived of its long shanks, and properly roasted could not be differentiated from the turkey of commerce by the most expert poulterer or bon vivant. Mr. Clark told us he was determined we should have a turkey, had arisen at five in the morning, gone out and bagged two bustards, and they were splendid.

We drank champagne to the absent ones as proposed by our host, and each thought of his dear ones. Beside the bustard, there were individual mince pies and plum pudding, each blazing with brandy. After dinner we went to the drawing room, where Mr. Clark gave the skirt dance in a mistressly manner to music which I produced from a pigmy piano brought there on a camel’s back all the 300 miles from Dire-Daouah. Mr. Clark executed some solos upon it, and enjoyment was unconfined. Late in the night we thanked our charming host for the best time we had had in Abyssinia.

The generous Emperor in question was Menelik II, who reigned from 1889-1913.  He is best remembered for his victory against the Italian invasion of Abyssinia in 1896, at the Battle of Adwa.

From 1st to 24th December there will be a “Christmas History” article on Windows into History every day, exploring how people spent Christmas in the past through first-hand accounts in forgotten books.  Please come back tomorrow for the next article!

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About Windows into History

Author of windowsintohistory.wordpress.com Co-writer on junkyardview.wordpress.com Administrator of frontiersmenhistorian.wordpress.com
This entry was posted in 20th Century, Books, Christmas, Christmas History, History, Travel and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Mince Pies, Plum Pudding and Bustards (Christmas History 21)

  1. Carrie Birde says:

    The title alone of this article is enough to entice reading — thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

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