Christmas before Tinsel and Turkey at Petworth

A snowy day at Petworth

Escape the ordinary and step back in time to a bygone Christmas. Discover traditions old and familiar from a time before fairy lights and Christmas trees and learn about the history of the Christmas feast and Georgian dining in the Servants' Quarters.

From 7 December 2019 until 5 January 2020, find out how the festive season was celebrated in traditional Georgian style at Petworth House. See selected rooms of the mansion and Servants' Quarters dressed for a 'Christmas before Turkey and Tinsel', before fairy lights and Christmas trees became a tradition, and join us when we cut the Christmas Cheese. You might even get to try a bite!

Walk through the different rooms decorated for a 19th-century Christmas and discover traditions both old and new in a cosy, relaxed atmosphere. Most of the Christmas traditions we celebrate nowadays, including Christmas cards, crackers and turkey, became popular in the Victorian era. We are turning the clocks back a bit further, to the Georgian period. Learn about the history of Christmas trees, find out what the most popular presents would have been and play some traditional family games.

More rooms are open for you to see than in previous winters, allowing you to learn more about what our conservation team is working on during the cold period of the year.

Entry to the house is free-flow and there is no need to book. Admission charges apply. Free for National Trust members. Please note that Petworth House and the Pleasure Ground are closed on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day but the Deer Park is still open to enjoy. 

Join us when we cut the Christmas Cheese.
Join us when we cut the Christmas Cheese.
Join us when we cut the Christmas Cheese.

Start your journey with one of our highlight talks in the medieval chapel, with its colourful stained glass windows atmospherically reflecting the light of a candle display. Learn about how Christmas was celebrated 200 years ago: What was the most popular Christmas gift? Was there a family-favourite board game? How was the Christmas dinner prepared and what exactly is a 'Christmas Cheese'?

Your journey continues through the Oak Hall, where ‘Charlotte’s Tree’ tells the history of Christmas trees. From the Legend of Martin Luther at the bottom of the tree, working its way up to traditional tree decorations of the 17th, 18th and 19th century at the top, find out how families dressed their tree before tinsel was invented. 

The table in the Square Dining Room dressed for a Georgian Christmas dinner

During this immersive experience, discover an elaborately dressed dining table laid for a banquet.  Dotted with show-stopping centrepieces of foliage, grapes and pineapples, luxuries of the Georgian era, the feast sits beside a grand log-burning fireplace to keep away the crisp winter air.

Take part in parlour games popular at the time and settle down with a game of cards in the Somerset Room. Or explore Georgian fashion and try on some of the historic outfits that were popular 200 years ago when Petworth House was home to the 3rd Earl and Elizabeth Ilive.

Feeling shy about trying on a costume? Don't worry, you'll be in good company. Professional costumed interpreters will visit Petworth House on 27, 28 and 29 December, as well as 1 and 2 January, demonstrating some of the most impressive Georgian outfits. 

The Historic Kitchen dressed for a Georgian Christmas

In contrast to the grand state rooms, delve ‘below stairs’ in the Servants’ Quarters and discover the lengths the servants have gone to prepare for the occasion in Petworth House. Find out what dishes were being served, how they were prepared and maybe get some inspiration for your own Christmas family meal. We believe that 'Christmas Cheeses' should definitely be revived - learn more about this tradition and have a little taste in the larder. Tasty cheese samples will be provided by Wyke Farms, a sustainable, family-run cheese-making business based in Somerset with over 150 years experience.

Frosty morning at Petworth House
Frosty morning at Petworth House
Frosty morning at Petworth House

Inspired by the festivities in the house, our café will be serving up hearty festive meals inspired by Georgian recipes. From Hackin, a sweet haggis-type pudding of minced beef with oats, to gingerbread, we owe some of our best festive smells and tastes to the Georgians. And don't forget to try some of the Christmas Cheese!

If you want to take a piece of Petworth Christmas home with you, pop into the shop. Mistletoe grown in Petworth Park, as as well as a selection of traditional Christmas decorations you may have spotted in the mansion, are available.