Sash Windows became a common feature in the beautiful Georgian homes we still see standing today. But did you know, the Georgians and their predecessors, The Victorians, gave us many of the traditions we still celebrate at Christmas time. With the Big Day fast approaching, we thought we’d take a look at the best loved festive customs passed down to us from times gone by.
The Georgian Christmas season stretched from December 6th (St. Nicholas Day) to January 6th (Twelfth Night, Epiphany). The holiday was spent by the gentry in their country houses and estates, as they did not return to London until February. It was a time of great celebration and balls, parties, masquerades, and lots and lots of food and indulgence.
Christmas trees are often thought to have been introduced by Prince Albert in the 1840s but the idea had actually been around for much longer and originated from pagan festivals when the qualities of greenery and light were in demand during mid-winter. Earlier Christmas trees (pre-1840s) were much smaller than today and stood on a table. The Georgians decorated their trees with candles, ribbons and even juicy red apples. They bought the outside in and festooned their formal areas with holly wreathes, berries and garlands of evergreens. All in all, the Georgian Christmas tree was as vibrant as the season itself.
Christmas Pudding or plum pudding is eaten at the end of the Christmas dinner, and has been around for many centuries, but in 1664 the Puritans banned it, citing it as a lewd custom and describing its rich ingredients as unfit for God-fearing people. In 1714, King George I re-established it as part of the Christmas meal and by Victorian times, Christmas Puddings had changed into something similar to the ones that are eaten today. The Georgians enjoyed Christmas dinner and would normally serve a gigantic Goose or Duck with all the trimmings, followed by a rich Christmas Pudding, similar to the ones served today, but with more traditional spices. Size was everything and a 9lb pudding was considered the norm.
Mince Pies were not as we know them today, they were originally filled with chicken eggs, sugar, raisins, lemons and oranges.
The “Wassail” bowl was a tradition that is still carried out in some parts of the country. Similar to mulled wine and made of the richest and raciest wines, highly spiced and sweetened, with roasting apples bobbing on the surface, the Wassail Bowl was a fairly potent mix of alcohol and spices and often led to behaviour as racey as the wines contained therein.
Twelfth Night marked the end of the festive season and was the highlight of the Christmas celebrations in Georgian England. The Twelfth Night ball was one of the grandest of the year and sometimes took the form of a masquerade or fancy dress ball. A Twelfth cake containing a dried bean and a dried pea was an intrinsic part of the evenings festivities and the man who found the bean in his slice was elected King for the night; the lady who found the pea, the Queen. Even if they were normally servants, their temporarily exalted position was acknowledged by everyone, including their masters. By the early 19th century, the cake had become very elaborate, with sugar frosting and gilded paper trimmings, often decorated with delicate figures made of plaster of Paris or sugar paste.
The Yule Log
The Yule log was chosen on Christmas Eve. It was wrapped round in hazel twigs and dragged home, to burn in the fireplace for the 12 days of Christmas. A piece of the Yule Log was saved to light the following years Yule Log. These days it is more usual for us to enjoy a log made of chocolate cake.
The Kissing Bough or Ball
The tradition of kissing under a bunch of old foliage is centuries old. By the late 18th century, kissing boughs and balls were much more commonplace. They were usually made of holly, ivy and rosemary, with mistletoe hanging underneath. Spices, apples, oranges, oat ears, wax dolls, candles or ribbons could also be included.
However you chose to spend your Christmas, either celebrating in a traditional way or more contemporary, we would like to wish all our customers and supporters:
A VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR