The turkey forms a prominent part of Christmas dinner in France, England and the United States, but not in Holland. Dutch breeders produce 2.7 million turkeys a year, but these are large white birds weighing up to 20 kg, which are used as raw material for hamburgers and sausages. These turkeys are far removed from their ancestors from Mexico which were brought to Europe after Columbus discovered America. The British thought the new bird came from Turkey, hence its name in English. The German and Dutch believed it came from Calcutta in India, which led to the name Calecutische Hahn in German and Kalkoen in Dutch. Dutch Christmas turkeys are imported from France, but most people prefer rollade, rolled meat.
Most people in Holland eat their Christmas dinner within sight of their Christmas tree, which has gained popularity during the course of the present century. Two million trees, mainly spruce, are now sold each year. In winter people used to dance around trees decorated with apples and sweets, fertility symbols. The celebration with trees was moved indoors due to Christian disapproval of the pagan elements, but later on the festivities were christianized. Nowadays the Dutch buy a seven year-old spruce for about twenty-five guilders, with roots attached for environmental or economic reasons. Renting a Christmas tree has recently become popular.
The Christmas meal stems from the Midwinter meal in the Middle Ages in Europe. During this meal Europeans expressed their hope that the spring would return, an event for which there was no certainty in those days. The meal usually consisted of swedes and carrots. Our ancestors feared evil spirits and tried to keep them away in winter by making a lot of noise. This tradition is continued on 31st December when the Dutch light fireworks to celebrate New Year.
And now for something completely different. Computers are increasingly being used for educational purposes. The computer is good at transferring knowledge," says Hans Smolenaars of the Department of Agricultural Education. This gives the lecturer more time to help students apply this knowledge by carrying out case studies." One example of this is the programme TropCrop produced by the Department of Agronomy. This programme has recorded the morphological quality and environment of 250 tropical plant species, which the students can learn by doing a quiz. The lecturer still uses real plants during lectures, but the department does not need to grow so many plant species in its greenhouse any more. TropCrop, short for tropical crops, has been produced in cooperation with a plant science institute in Gottingen, Germany.