During the Georgian period (1714-1820), it was often incorrectly assumed that Christmas wasn’t celebrated with as much gusto as during the Victorian era. Although traditions, foods and celebrations differed, Christmas was actively commemorated during this period.
Christmas meals during the Georgian period differed vastly from what was common table fare in the medieval and Tudor periods. New and improved agricultural achievements signalled a change in traditional Christmas foods. By the eighteenth century, roasts and various fowl became common but were later replaced by the turkey as the most popular meat at the Christmas table.
Prior to the Georgian period, Christmas was a twelve day feast in which the foods were prepared well in advance with the idea of using up winter stores and foods that could be well preserved over the holiday season. Typical Christmas foods during the Georgian era were cheese, soups, turkey, geese, duck, capons, minced pies, and frumetnery – a dish which contained grains, almonds, currants, sugar and was often served with meat.
Mince pies were eaten at Christmas in England since the sixteenth century. They were initially made of minced meat but were later replaced with dried fruit and spices. Christmas pudding was also a popular dish and dated back to the Middle Ages. It was called ‘ lum pottage’ and made of chopped meat with dried prunes or raisins. In the Georgian period, the meat was replaced by suet. Twelfth Cake, a version of present day Christmas cake, was sliced and given to all members of the household and guests. It contained dried beans and dried peas. The person whose slice contained the bean was King for the night; a slice with a pea indicated the Queen. Even servants played along and if they won, they were recognized by everyone, including their masters as the evening’s King and Queen. By the Regency period, Twelfth cake became elaborate and added frosting, trimmings, and figurines. Twelfth night remained popular until the late nineteenth century.
George III’s wife, Queen Charlotte, brought the first version of the present day Christmas tree in 1800 and decorated it with gifts, dolls and tapers after her German traditions. The tradition of gift giving also became popular during the eighteenth century as the wealthy gave gifts to their labourers. Ornaments included paper flowers, tinsel, wire ornaments, beads, candles, gingerbread and wax figures. Although Queen Charlotte brought the Christmas tree to England in 1800, the tree did not become popular until Queen Victoria married German Prince Albert. Homes of this time were decorated with holly, ivy and mistletoe. Stockings filled with presents hanging over the fireplace were first recorded in England in the early nineteenth century.
Christmas was banned by the Puritans in the mid-seventeenth century giving rise to the belief that Christmas fun and frivolity was not rekindled until the Victorian period. Christmas was completely abolished and shops and markets were kept open during the 25th of December. People were expected to continue going about their normal business and not partake in holiday celebrations or face fines and imprisonment. Puritans disliked Christmas because of its heathen origins and because of its association with extravagance and excess, but by the Georgian period, Christmas was again fully celebrated. Georgians enjoyed many different pastimes during the holidays such as cards, hunt the slipper, blind man’s bluff, shoe the wild mare, carol singing, story telling and dancing. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Twelfth Night parties were extremely popular and involved games, drinking and eating. British Pantomime also grew in popularity during the Georgian period, especially among the upper classes.