Merry Christmas!

The festive season is once again upon us. The yearly tradition of writing Christmas cards, decorating the house, putting up the tree and preparing a traditional Christmas dinner are all part of  the familiar Christmas experience. Have a look at how people celebrated Christmas through some of our archives.

Food glorious food

By Elizabethan times, food was very much a part of the Christmas tradition. In wealthier households a banqueting course of expensive and intricate food was provided to display the wealth of the host and the culinary skills of his lady.

Although the development of Christmas festivities ceased during the Commonwealth period, it slowly regained popularity after the Restoration in 1660. In 1662 Samuel Pepys recorded in his diary that he ate ‘plum porridge and a roasted pullet, followed by mince pie.’ This was a somewhat frugal meal, owing to his wife’s illness.

In 1796, James Oakes of Nowton Court near Bury St Edmunds, recorded in his diary that on Christmas Day, he ate: ‘For Dinner Gravy Soup, a large joint Rump of Beef & large Turkey 12lb, plumb Puddings & minc’d Pyes.’

If you’d like to learn more, why not join us at Bury Record Office for our Christmas talk: Eat, Drink and be Merry! There will even be the opportunity to taste a few samples made from old recipes.

Can’t make it? We have a sample of recipes from our archives that you could try at home, but don’t forget to let us know how you get on via our Twitter feed @KeyToThePast

 Fun and Games

Tom Smith, a confectioner’s apprentice from London devised the first Christmas Cracker after a trip to Paris in 1840. Over the years, the cracker has evolved to include hats, games, toys and jokes.

Photograph of Christmas celebrations at Lowestoft Hospital showing nurses gathered around Mr Craig the consultant surgeon, who is dressed as a large cracker as he carves the turkey

Photograph of Christmas celebrations at Lowestoft Hospital, 1300/72/24/17

We’ve searched our archives and discovered a selection of riddles and conundrums. Located in the Grafton Collection, they are undated but likely to have been written in the 19th century. Unfortunately they don’t all have the solutions, perhaps you can come up with your own?

Season’s Greetings

By the early twentieth century the custom of buying gifts had gained momentum.

Come and see our exhibition at our Bury St. Edmunds branch to see some advertisements from the Bury and Norwich Post which were placed to tempt shoppers to buy their Christmas gifts.

The advertisements range from greetings cards, through food and drink to more elaborate gift ideas.

If you’re looking for ideas for Christmas gifts, this weekend sees the Bury St. Edmunds Christmas Fayre.

Deck the Halls

Prince Albert popularised the tradition of decorating a Christmas tree—although he was not the first person to introduce the tradition to England. Queen Charlotte, wife of George III had a decorated tree for her family in the 1790s!

Soldiers and nurses around Christmas tree K505/1858

Soldiers and nurses around the Christmas tree K505/1858

Christmas Wishes

The first Christmas Card was invented in London in 1843 by Henry Cole to advertise his business. It was designed by John Calcott Horsley. One thousand cards were printed in black and white and coloured by hand. The printer sold off the ones not used by Mr Cole.

Charles Goodall first mass produced simple Christmas card designs from 1862. By 1871 there were complaints in the newspapers that the sending of greetings cards were slowing down the postal system for businesses!

During the First World War, it was popular to send Christmas cards to soldiers. Have a look at these Christmas cards sent from soldiers in the Suffolk Regiment.

Christmas Card, 1936 [HD2785]

Christmas Card, 1936 [HD2785]