As is their custom, the capital’s most passionate carnivores will converge upon Smithfield Market for the annual auction staged by Harts the butcher at the north-west corner of the General Market Building in Charterhouse Street on the morning of December 24. To be sure of a place in the crowd, get there well before 11am and take a wad of banknotes. Be prepared to jostle and catch cut-price turkeys, joints of meat and even suckling pigs when they go flying over the heads of the enthusiastic throng, thrown by overexcited butchers as part of a lively London tradition stretching back more than 500 years.
First come loins of pork and joints of beef as curtain warmers, before the crowd-surfing poultry in red wrappers appear. ‘Mind your heads, turkeys coming over...’ yell butchers at the climax of the morning as the roasting birds are greeted with loud cheers by hungry revellers.
Finally, the auction culminates with ‘tossing for meat’ in which customers get their steaks for free if they guess the toss correctly. Each winner is greeted with an exultant roar by the butchers and the crowd, fellow participants in a boisterous party game. Before long, collective bloodlust grips the assembly and the spectacle can resemble a bacchanale or an ancient pagan celebration in which the tumultuous mass are liberated to pursue their animal instincts. This is Christmas with the gloves off!
But then, just 90 minutes later, the auction wraps up, leaving the crowd to consolidate their proud purchases, tucking the meat and fowl snugly in suitcases and backpacks to keep them safe until they can be stowed away in the freezer at home. All tremendous festive fun and an ideal opportunity for a walk around the atmospheric market buildings, but definitely not an occasion for the faint-hearted – or vegetarians.
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