Christmas Wrapped Up At English Heritage Membership
Do something different this season. Get hands on with crafts, listen to carollers carouse, get some dinner tips from a Victorian Cook or immerse yourself in a traditional Cornish Christmas. Mix in the range of gifts available in our shops – why not buy someone special the Gift of Membership? - and you have the perfect recipe for a memorable Christmas.
The Gift of Membership
This Christmas don't buy them socks. Give them the keys to the castle. Be original and treat your loved ones to the Gift of Membership.
Get Creative This Season
Make a wreath for your own home or create a nature inspired gift at one of our history inspired workshops.
Christmas Through Time
How did we celebrate Christmas before cards, tinsel, roast turkey and Christmas trees? We've taken a look at some of the festivities, customs and traditions that have developed through the centuries.
Get some Christmas inspiration
Medieval Mistletoe and Carols
Medieval Christmas celebrations were very much focused on religious ceremony - the word itself comes from old English 'Christes Maesse', meaning Christ's Mass.
Mistletoe and Ivy
Over time, seasonal pagan traditions became more common. These included decorating homes with native evergreens, which had berries in the middle of winter signalling life in harsh seasons. Holly and ivy were particularly popular and a kissing bough, consisting of a round ball of twigs, greenery and seasonal fruit, was often hung from the ceiling - the mistletoe of the day!
Christmas carol singing can be traced back to these times too, originally growing out of pagan celebrations at midwinter. Ordinary people didn't speak Latin, so carols were able to be sung by everyone. Soon singing and dancing in Christmas services became too raucous which led to carol singers being ordered out onto the streets - creating the tradition of carolling as we know it.
Warm up with carols at our carol singing events this winter.
Victoria and Albert's Christmas Traditions
No era had as much impact on the modern day Christmas as the Victorians. Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and their family did much to shape traditions that we celebrate today:
In 1848, the Illustrated London News published a drawing of Queen Victoria and her family celebrating around a decorated Christmas tree. Soon every home in Britain wanted to be like the royals and have a tree bedecked with candles, sweets, fruit, home-made decorations and small gifts.
The Christmas card was invented in 1843. As industrialisation saw card production costs drop, the introduction of cheap postal rates saw the Christmas card industry take off and millions were being produced by the 1880s. This tradition turned out to be especially popular with children, including the royal prince and princesses.
Christmas crackers were invented in 1848 by a British confectioner, Tom Smith, as a way of selling sweets inside. In time, the original contents were replaced by small gifts and paper hats.
Gift giving, originally a small part of the seasonal celebrations, became a more central part of Christmas. Originally fruit, nuts, sweets and handmade trinkets were hung on the tree, but soon bigger, shop-bought gifts were moved under the tree.
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens was published in 1843. This classic tale of family, charity, goodwill and redemption remains a Christmas favourite to this day.
Visit the home of Victoria and Albert, Osborne, on the Isle of Wight.
The Victorian era largely defined the way we celebrate Christmas today
What would Christmas be without Christmas food?
The Christmas pudding has been a seasonal favourite since the Middle Ages, when plum pudding was made in the winter from dried fruits and luxuries such as citrus peel and spices. Mince pies also date from this time; traditional ingredients were minced meat, suet, a range of fruits, and spices. By the 19th century the sweet mince pie we eat today became more widespread.
In medieval England, the Christmas meal centrepiece varied depending on how rich a family were, with the choice of meat ranging from beef, game and chicken. Turkey first appeared on English tables in Tudor times, but did not become widespread until the late Victorian times, another Victorian Christmas tradition we still follow today. The Braybrooke family at Audley End House and Gardens made the most of the festive excuse to celebrate in style. Records from 1868 tell us that a thoroughly enjoyable Christmas lunch was had:
The family's Christmas lunch had over 10 courses.
500lbs of meat was consumed by the family and household staff over the holiday period.
55 indoor and outdoor servants consumed 149lbs of meat at their Christmas meal.
34 rabbits, 7 hares, 2 ducks, 4 chickens, 19 pheasants and 18 partridges were consumed by the family and servants.
Do you know how the Victorians celebrated Christmas?