Christmas at Sudbury Hall

Sudbury fireplace decorated in the regency style

We love getting into the Christmas spirit here at Sudbury Hall. Traditions are a huge part of a modern Christmas from food to songs and games. This year we're celebrating a Regency Christmas with a little bit of inspiration from Giorgiana Vernon's diary, an insight into what a family Christmas here at Sudbury may have been like.

Hang on... where's the Christmas tree?

Christmas trees are now a staple of the festive season, but they are in fact a relatively modern addition to Christmas traditions. Staying true to the regency period, officially dating from 1811 to 1820, we'll be decorating the hall in true regency fashion. From oranges and lemons to foliage and candles and of course keeping with our own Sudbury tradition, a little bit of hand made! 

Christmas trees as we know them didn't really come into fashion until after 1848.The Christmas custom of taking a tree inside and decorating it was well-established in Germany, and Queen Charlotte who came from the German duchy, introduced this tradition to England.

A very green Christmas
Regency decorations on a door handle at Sudbury Hall
A very green Christmas

Have times changed that much?

Christmas in the Regency era was a time, as it still is today, a time of celebration. A time to visit family and friends, play games, lavish parties and masquerades. The Christmas period began on 6 December (St Nicholas’ Day) and ended on 6 January (Twelfth night, Epiphany).  The gentry would return to their country estates and welcome guests to share in the celebrations. It was a time of excess for those who could afford it, the emphasis was much less on children and presents and much more about family and socialising.

Creating traditions

Many of the traditions we associate with Christmas today did not become popular until the Victorian era. The idea of Father Christmas did not become widespread until later in the 1800s, although St Nicholas was acknowledged by his feast day before this date. Most of the carols we know today had not been written; those which had were as poems and not accompanied by music.   

Fresh fruit was expensive and difficult to get hold of, so it was a treat used in decorations and often eaten later. Christmas day itself was similar to today; it was a national holiday spent with family, visiting church and enjoying Christmas dinner.  Food and drink were at the centre of celebrations, and much was needed to keep all guests happy. Traditional dishes included Christmas Pie, the punch called ‘Wassail’ and a Twelfth Night cake.

An alternative take on Christmas decorations
Regency style Christmas decorations at Sudbury
An alternative take on Christmas decorations

A special occasion

The celebrations of the Christmas season would end on the Twelfth Night. This marked the coming of the feast of Epiphany, celebrating the Wise Men’s arrival in Bethlehem and their giving of gifts to the baby Jesus. Twelfth Night was celebrated in great style with masquerade parties and gifts. Guests would dress in costume or draw names of characters to play throughout the party, much like the individuals in the portraits adorning the Saloon.

It was not long after the Regency era that the tradition of celebrating Christmas over such a long period became less common. The new industrial working conditions of the Victorian era did not allow people to take as much time off work. Queen Victoria is also said to have felt it was too wild a holiday, so removed it from the official calendar.

What will a Regency Christmas at Sudbury look like?

Our Regency Christmas will begin on December 1 and you can expect to see the Hall in its full festive glory. From traditional greenery and foliage to twinkling lights and a little bit of handmade Sudbury specialness. You might see some Regency dancers twirling in the Saloon and find some traditional songs and games to join in with. Check our What's on page for further details.