Celebrating a Georgian Christmas

Christmas wreath full of garden greenery and colourful fruits

During the mid-sixteenth century, the Puritans had banned Christmas celebrations. Yet, by the time Ralph Allen was born, festive spirits had been revived and Christmas was a very important time of the year in the Georgian calendar. Families gathered round their roaring fires and played games, exchanged presents and ate a tremendous amount of specially prepared food. The Christmas season ran from St. Nicholas Day (6 December) to Twelfth Night (6 January).

Feasting was at the heart of Christmas celebrations during the Georgian era. A typical menu would have consisted of soups, cheese, turkey, goose and duck. Mince pies were also very popular. Unlike the sweet mince pies we eat today, they were made from mincemeat and were delicious savoury treats.

Food brought all members of the household together. A much loved dessert was ‘Twelfth Cake,’ a Georgian version of a Christmas cake. It was cut up and given to all members of the household. A pea and a bean were hidden inside the cake. The person whose slice contained the bean was King for the night whilst the slice with the pea indicated the Queen. The winners were adorned as the evening’s King and Queen, even if they were servants.

The Georgians loved merriment and playing games was a favourite past time. Cards, blind man’s buff, hunt the slipper, shoe the wild mare, carol singing and storytelling were popular at Twelfth Night parties. The gentry particularly loved playing charades.

A Georgian house would have been decorated in greenery sourced from the outdoors.  Holly, evergreens, ivy, apples and oranges were all typical decorations. It was considered unlucky to decorate the house until Christmas Eve and if the greenery wasn’t burned once Twelfth night was over, it was believed to bring bad luck for the New Year. Other decorations included spices, apples, oranges, ribbons and candles.

The Yule log was also chosen on Christmas Eve. It was wrapped in hazel twigs and put on the fire to burn throughout the Christmas season. A piece of the Yule log was used to light the following year’s log, bringing blessing and prosperity to all those in the house.

The Georgians had their own unique way of celebrating Christmas and heralding the New Year. What are your favourite festive traditions?