Georgian Christmas – What a Feast!


Hogarth’s ‘The Assembly at Wanstead House’, 1728-31

When we think of Christmas, most of us will think of the massive amounts of food we have left over at the end of the day. If you are like my family one joint of meat is not enough, we typically having gammon, turkey and beef. But just what did the Georgians feast on at Christmas and how similar is this to what we eat today? 

After the English Revolution (1642 to 1660) Christmas was made illegal in England under the rule of radical Puritan, Oliver Cromwell. Cromwell banned the festivities as the Puritans believed that “excessive eating, drinking, and partying” were sinful acts and that the day should instead be a sober day of reflection.[1]After his death, the monarchy was reinstated, with King Charles II on the throne. Christmas was back!

Georgian Christmas spanned much longer than in the Medieval and Tudor period or than our own festive period today. Beginning on St. Nicholas Day, December 6th, to Twelfth Night, January 16th.[2] The month-long celebration included attending church, exchanging presents, lavish get-togethers and parties.

Traditional Food

Christmas in this period saw large feasts, parties and get-togethers, meaning the quantity of food needed was massive. A lot of the food preparation was thus done in advance. Dishes like boiled puddings were something the kitchen staff and cooks could prepare around a week beforehand without them going bad. Cold food was also something that was customary.

Some dishes the feasts included were turkey or goose, venison but this was mainly eaten by the gentry, Christmas pudding, mince pies, twelfth cake, which is like modern Christmas cake, soups, cheese and a whole array of other meats and vegetables.

Doughlas Barnett, ‘Passing The Wassail Bowl’

As Christmas is a time for festivities and parties, many in the Georgian era consumed a lightly spiced ale with honey from large drinking bowl. The Wassail bowl was passed around the dinner table from guest to guest. The Anglo-Saxon term “weas hael” is what the Wassail Bowl was traditionally toasted to – meaning “for your health”.

Mince Pies

Mince pies have always been a popular item to eat around Christmas time. Today, the average Briton consumes an average of 27 mince pies at during the Christmas period.[3] However, mince pies haven’t always been the sweet treat we know them as today.

Traditionally, mince pies did contain mincemeat, typically being beef or mutton but in this period the type of meat would depend on the household income. These mince pies were a savory dish, rather than a sweet. Something strange about the mince pies is that during preparation an old tale demands that the mixture should only be stirred anti-clockwise. Also, the shape had great significance. They were an oval shape to represent the manger baby Jesus slept in.[2] Around Christmas, stars were put on top of the mince pie to represent the star that led the shepherds and kings to Bethlehem; this is something we still see today.

When looking at King George III’s Christmas Day Menu and many of the other menus for this festive period, “minced pyes” are a popular item incorporated into the daily feasts. You can see “2 dishes of minced pyes” at the bottom of the image to the right.

If you are interested in baking your own traditional Georgian mince pies, you can find a recipe put together by the National Trust here.

Christmas Pudding

Christmas pudding was regularly referred to as plum pudding within the Georgian era as one of its main ingredients was plum. Christmas pudding was traditionally made with chopped up pieces of meat, but within the Georgian period, suet was used instead. Again, like mince pies, plum pudding is something that frequently appears on King George III’s royal menus.

If you would like to make your own Georgian Christmas pudding this year take a look at the recipe below.

A boiled Plum Pudding – Hannah Glasse (18th-century recipe)

“Take a pound of suet cut in little pieces not too fine a pound of currants and a pound of raisins storied eight eggs half the whites half a nutmeg grated and a teaspoonful of beaten ginger a pound of flour a pint of milk beat the eggs first then half the milk beat them together and by degrees stir in the flour then the suet spice and fruit and as much milk as will mix it well together very thick Boil it five hours”.[]Hannah Glasse
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I Hope you have enjoyed reading about Georgian Christmas dishes and get to try out the recipes. Happy baking!


[1] Serina Sandhu, Shoppers have already spent £4 million on mince pies (2017), https://inews.co.uk/news/uk/shoppers-already-spent-4-million-mince-pies/ [accessed 27 April 2019]

[2] The Journal, ‘The taste of Christmas past’ (2010), http://www.thejournal.co.uk/culture/restaurants-bars/the-taste-of-christmas-past-4445817 [accessed 27 April 2019].

[3] Joanne Mattern, ‘Celebrate Christmas’ (United States: Enslow Publishers, 2008), pp. 22.

[4] Ben Johnson, ‘A Georgian Christmas’, Historic UK, < https://www.historic-uk.com/CultureUK/A-Georgian-Christmas/> [accessed 27 April 2019].

[5] Hannah Glasse, ‘The Art of Cookery made plain and easy’ (Michigan, 1967). pp. 167.5




1 thought on “Georgian Christmas – What a Feast!

  1. Traditional mince pies sound like a less enjoyable Christmas treat! Was there an explanation for the anti-clockwise stirring?

    Will you be trying out either recipe?

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