Downton Abbey fans will already know that the popular English TV show is back for its sixth and final season soon, starting on January 3, 2016 on MASTERPIECE on PBS. The very last show in the series will be a Christmas special! But if you want your Downton Abbey Christmas fix now, I’ve also heard that PBS is re-airing the Christmas special finale from Season 5 on December 27, 2015.
There’s something nostalgic about an old-time English Christmas. I guess it must be all those Masterpiece Theatre shows as well as holiday stories like A Christmas Carol. Here are some of the English Christmas traditions that stand out to me.
An English Christmas dinner table is always set with Christmas crackers – NOT a food but the novelties that pull apart with a bang. They’re ‘cracked’ before Christmas dinner and the person who “wins” by keeping hold of the longest piece gets the prizes inside. They put on the paper crown and tell the (usually terrible) joke. Once everybody has a paper crown, the feast can commence! This illustration of two children tugging on a cracker dates back to 1878.
The English Christmas meal is very similar to our own, except redcurrant jelly might replace cranberry sauce and roast parsnips are traditional too. Turkey is a favorite although in medieval England a roast peacock or wild boar might have been on the menu! King Henry VIII was the first English King to tuck into turkey for Christmas. Many families add a Yorkshire Pudding to the meal. This is not a dessert but a savory dish between an American biscuit and a savory pancake. If you want to try this tasty treat, here’s a recipe for Yorkshire Pudding.
After the meal comes the ‘real’ pudding: Christmas pudding or plum pudding. Except that it’s not a pudding in the way we understand a pudding either! Instead of being a custardy dish, it’s more like a dense steamed cake, full of dried raisins, cherries and other dried fruit and nuts. It’s traditional to hide a silver coin (in the old days it was a silver sixpence) inside the pudding. It’s good luck for whoever finds it in their bowl. Sometimes the pudding is doused in brandy or rum and then set alight as it is carried to the table. It is served with custard, rum butter, clotted cream, or a brandy sauce of thick cream with a few spoons of brandy stirred in.
For snacks between meals or to accompany a pot of tea, everyone loves mince pies! Even if you don’t have servants to bring you mince pies on a silver tray, they are easy to make if you find a jar of the mincemeat in your local grocery store. Despite the name, there is no meat involved, although when the delicacy first appeared in the 13th century it was indeed real meat, seasoned with dried fruits and spices including cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. Now the meat has gone and just the sweet stuff remains, although suet is a part of the mix. If you don’t eat meat, look for products with vegetable suet rather than lard suet.
Finally, the English take Boxing Day, December 26, as a national holiday as well as Christmas Day itself. It has nothing to do with the sport of boxing, although there are lots of sporting events on Boxing Day including horse racing. It is actually the day that people traditionally gave gifts (or boxes) to their servants and tradesmen. Nowadays most people don’t have servants but they still celebrate the day as a chance to visit friends or extended family and exchange gifts, or just relax and eat more mince pies!
This looks like a very grand and festive place to entertain visiting friends. It’s a picture of the Christmas tree at Holker Hall in Cumbria, England, the ancestral home of Lord Cavendish. Even the bust of the Greek poet Homer on the mantelpiece over the fireplace is decorated with a mistletoe wreath!
Aimee owns EuroLuxHome.com with her husband and best friend, Greg. Aimee sources amazing antique furniture, vintage lighting, & high-quality reproduction furniture to help her customers decorate their homes in a unique way. She loves her 9 (you read that right) fuzzy children and is renovating a 1920s bungalow in South Carolina. Find us on Facebook or connect with EuroLux on Google+. Or you can sign up here to receive this blog in your inbox.