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A Very Georgian Christmas

When we think of a historical Christmas, we might first think of our Victorian forebears: cards, presents, Christmas trees – but many of our familiar festive rituals were popular in the Georgian era. Even the Christmas tree, which was popularized by Prince Albert in homage to his German heritage, was actually first brought to England in 1800 by George III’s German wife, Queen Charlotte.

A Town Mouse Christmas at Fairfax House. (Image: the author)

For the Georgians, joviality, camaraderie and the fuzzy feeling of Christmas were as important as they are today. In 1762, the famous diarist, James Boswell (1740-1795), wrote in his journal that Christmas ‘always inspired me with most agreeable feelings.’ He describes attending church before enjoying a literary Christmas dinner at Child’s coffee-house with the publisher, Robert Dodsley, and the historian Oliver Goldsmith, remarking ‘it is inconceivable how hearty I eat and how comfortable I felt myself after it’.[1] A familiar feeling to many after a good Christmas lunch!

George Willison, James Boswell, 1740-1795. Diarist and biographer of Dr Samuel Johnson. 1765. Oil on Canvas. (Image: National Galleries of Scotland)

Though we can’t step back in time, we can at least still experience Georgian-inspired festivities in York this Christmas. Read on to find out what’s happening.


(Image: York Mansion House)

If Boswell’s description of a Georgian feast is enough to whet your curiosity, York Mansion House is hosting A Very Georgian Christmas, where you can discover the weird and wonderful delicacies during a historical cooking demonstration – followed by a masterclass on the language of the fan! Or, you can get fully into the Christmas spirit (pun absolutely intended) and join them for a Baroque Christmas, where you’ll enjoy a welcome drink of York Gin and enjoy a festive concert, featuring vocal and instrumental works, arias from Handel’s Messiah, a pastoral recorder concerto, music for trumpet, and traditional French carols by Charpentier and Lalande.

(Image: York Mansion House)


Of course, what would Christmas be without our favourite traditional carols? At Holy Trinity, Goodramgate, there are carols by candlelight and an advent service. If you’re interested in the history, then don’t miss out on our own winter lecture series on Saturday 25 November, as Professor Bennet Zon from the University of Durham will be talking about the history of ‘Adeste Fideles’ – better known as ‘O Come all Ye Faithful’!

(Image: MS Euing R.d.90 superscript 2; with permission of University of Glasgow Archives and Special Collections)


At Fairfax House, in true 18th-century style, the house will be dressed in magnificent festive foliage so you can join in the Christmas traditions. This year, the charming town mice have also returned – see how many you can find! Or join York Castle Museums and explore Christmas through the centuries – from a 17th-century dining room to a 1980s kitchen.

A Town Mouse Christmas at Fairfax House. (Image: the author)


Of course, if you’d rather stay cosy at home, you can always bring a Georgian Christmas to your own kitchen! To end this post, we’ll leave you with a couple of Hannah Glasse’s Christmas recipes from 1747.[2]

Would you try making a Georgian plum porridge or a Yorkshire Christmas pye?

Hannah Glasse’s recipe for a Christmas ‘plum porridge’ – consisting of beef broth, bread, liquor, and lots of fruit! (Image: Google Books)

A Yorkshire Christmas pie – with a good thick crust and a rich array of pigeon, turkey, goose, woodcocks, wild fowl, and a partridge (all we’re missing is the pear tree)! (Image: Google Books)


[1] James Boswell, Boswell’s London Journal 1762-1763 (London: Heinemann, 1952), pp 109-110.

[2] Hannah Glasse, The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy (London, 1777) [first published 1747].

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