A Tudor and Stuart Christmas

Posted By on December 9, 2010

If you’re like me, you love finding out how Christmas is celebrated in different countries and how it was celebrated in different periods of history.

Well, you can read a full rundown on Tudor Christmas traditions on our “Tudor Christmas” page, but I’ve just been watching the Christmas episode of “Tales from the Green Valley” which was a series about a group of historians taking over a farm and running it as if it was in the 1620s. OK, so it’s in Stuart times, but not much had changed as far as Christmas traditions were concerned, and I just wanted to share with you how they celebrated Christmas in the episode:-

  • The Mince Pie – I make mince pies with homemade mincemeat ( a mixture of dried fruit, suet, spices and orange/lemon peel) and pastry, but in Tudor and Stuart times the mince pie was a big pie made with meat, spices and dried fruit. In the Christmas episode of “Tales from the Green Valley”, Ruth makes her mince pie with trimmings from the beef which Chloe is preparing for their Christmas roast dinner, spices such as mace, raisins, currants and dried figs. Mince pies could also be made with mutton, goose or veal. Click here for a traditional 17th century recipe for Mince Pie.
    The famous Tudor Christmas Pie was a coffin shaped pie crust containing a turkey stuffed with a goose which was stuffed with a chicken which was stuffed with a partridge which was stuffed with a pigeon!

  • The Roast – In the UK, we tend to eat roast turkey at our Christmas dinner, but, in Tudor times, you were more likely to eat goose or beef, if you were well off. In this episode, the historians enjoy roast beef which has been cooked in front of the fire on a spit, basted continually and dredged with breadcrumbs so that a crust builds up to seal inthe juices – yum!
  • Decorating the house – Obviously, the Christmas tree came became a Christmas tradition in the UK in Victorian times, but people decorated their houses in Tudor and Stuart times. We have to remember that December, mid winter, was a pretty miserable time for rural, everyday people, so it was good to brighten up the house by bringing in things like holly, ivy, rosemary and bay.
  • The Yule Log – This tradition dates back to Tudor times, although it probably has its roots in Viking traditions. The men of the house would find a huge log and bring it into the home to burn throughout the 12 days of Christmas.  It was a central part of the Christmas festivities, as the family would gather around the hearth, and the men bringing in the log would be welcomed with hot spiced ale by the women of the house.
  • Lambswool – Ruth made this traditional wassail drink in the programme with ale and apples and placed it near the fire to warm. Click here for a recipe for Lambswool.
  • Marchpane – In the programme, they made a decorative marchpane centrepiece with almonds and sugar (marzipan). They shaped it into a pig’s head and placed an apple in its mouth.

What we have to remember is that the 12 days of Christmas was an important time for rural Tudor and Stuart people, it was 12 days of holiday, feasting and merry making for them, and was a bright spot in the miserable, cold midwinter. Obviously, it was a religious festival, which marked the birth of Christ, but this was mixed in with the traditional Pagan festival which celebrated the Winter Solstice and rebirth – Spring was on its way!

You can find out more about the many traditions of the Tudor Christmas on our Tudor Christmas” page and also the Elizabethan Christmas over at The Elizabeth Files.

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14 thoughts on “A Tudor and Stuart Christmas”

  1. Anne Barnhill says:

    This is so fascinating! I didn’t know mince pie had meat in it-and that bird within a bird within a bird business sounds amazing–someone had one here for Thanksgiving but it was just a 3-bird deal–turkey, duck and then chicken. I’m very impressed you make your own mince pies. Here, I make pecan pies for Thanksgiving and Christmas. I love the idea of celebrating the 12 days. Does it begin with Christmas Day and then go on?
    I also love Advent, the season of waiting. I’ll be checking out the Lambswool recipe. We don’t get that show over here—wish we did! oh, and we drink eggnog, too. Cheers!

    1. Claire says:

      The 12 days of Christmas starts on Christmas Day and carries on until 5th January, the eve of Epiphany.
      Yum, pecan pies sound yummy! Mince pies are good too, I love them with brandy butter on. I also used to make Christmas cake but I don’t get the time these days. I’ve been drinking mulled wine but I haven’t had eggnog for years.

  2. Lexy says:

    Really interesting article as ever, Claire! Here in France people are busy decorating streets,and I spent much time in locals Christmas Markets. I wish there were still twelve days of Christmas, I enjoy this time so much… But wasn’t the pig head shaped marzipan a littlebit strange?

    1. Claire says:

      I do miss the Christmas markets I used to go to in the UK, here things don’t get Christmassy until Christmas Eve and the major event in our village is Epiphany eve when the Kings visit the village.
      The pig head shaped marzipan was quite cute and they ate it. It was a Tudor tradition to craft things out of marchpane and to make them look as realistic as possible.

  3. Jennifer says:

    I am definitely going to try to make the Lambswool, maybe a batch to test out on my guinea pigs..aka my husband and my brother in law….and then if it turns out good, I will make it for Christmas! The mince pie….I wanted to attempt, but it seems difficult. They can be made with just plain ground beef, right?

    1. Claire says:

      I’ve never tried mince pies with actual meat in them, modern mince pies don’t contain meat. Here’s a recipe for modern day mincemeat – http://www.deliaonline.com/recipes/main-ingredient/mincemeat/home-made-christmas-mincemeat.html

  4. Heather says:

    In the States, people tend to take down their Christmas decorations on December 26 which I think is a shame. The Catholic Church keeps things Christmassy through Epiphany and most stores do until New Year’s Day but the 12 days of Christmas are unobserved here and I think that’s a shame. We’ve become so politically correct here that even calling December 25 Christmas can get you in trouble.

    I love the holiday banner you have on the home page!

  5. Sarah Rooke says:

    Thank you as always Claire for a fascinating and interesting piece

    I was also interested to hear as a Druid the reference to the Winter Solstice, and despite Christianity, some pagan traditiions surviiving in those days

  6. Carolyn says:

    Wow, who knew the concept of Turducken was that old? I had associated it with fairly recent weird food trends, like deep-fried Twinkies or something.

  7. Anyanka says:

    Have you seen A Tudor Feast at Christmas?

    It’s based on a 1590 feast at Hatton Hall. The people who are doing it did A Victorian Farm/ Victorian Farm at Christmas.

    Seeing the amount of work required esp for the peacock pie….in it’s own skin.

    1. Anyanka says:

      It’s a BBC production.

      1. Claire says:

        Hi Anyanka,
        I haven’t seen that one but I’ve seen Tales of the Green Valley, The Victorian Farm and The Edwardian Farm and loved them all. I’ll have to see if I can get hold of that one.

        1. Anyanka says:

          I only saw the last 15 or so minutes. But I was impressed by the amount of work they had to do.

          The whole peacock pie blew my mind. I’d heard of a “peacock served in it’s feathers” but had thought it was just the tail for some reason…not the whole skin over a frame covering a pie..

          I downloaded The Victorian Farm so I’ll look out for those others. I’ve loved that kind of re-creation shows since The 1900’s house and the one from the Bronze age whose name escapes my name ATM.

  8. joan e charles says:

    IT IS SO FACINATING READING THE TUDOR HISTORY, AND THE PIE MAKING, IT IS REALLY SOMETHING WONDERFUL..I COULD NEVER DO ALL THAT, IT HAD TO HAVE BEEN A HUGE TOM TURKET, TO STUFF WITH ALL THE OTHER POULTRY,,MY GOD THAT IS AWESOME..I HAVE RECENTLY WATCHED THE GREAT BRITISH MENU, ON THE UKTV, WHERE THE TOP CHEFS COOKED FOR THE PRINCE CHARLES AND THE DUCHESS OF CORNWALL..IT WAS AMAZING FOOD..SO VERY CLEVER WITH THEIR PRESENT ATIONS…I AGREE IT WOULD BE SO VERY CHRISTMASY TO CELEBRATE ALL THE TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS..AND BEING A FORMER AMERICAN RESIDENT WHO USED TO TAKE DOWN THE DECORATIONS THE DAY AFTER CHRISTMAS, I NOW KEEP THEM UP FOR THE TWELVE DAYS.. THANKS CLAIRE FOR THE WONDERFUL INFORMNATION YOU SUPPLY US WITH.. JOAN CHARLES

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