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image for Historical Event item typeChristmas through the ages at Nunnington Hall

  • York Tourism Awards Finalist
  • York Tourism Awards Highly Commended
  • Welcome To Yorkshire Member
  • National Trust

Historical Event, from 15 Nov 2019

Art for Christmas community exhibition

Art for Christmas community exhibition


Discover the hall as it would have been at Christmas through history, from the indulgent Georgian era and impressionist Victorian age to the memorable post war years. Normal admission prices apply.

The ancient ‘winter festivals’ of light and fire offered temporary relief from the long, dark nights and short days. Beginning at the Winter Solstice, fires were kept alight to keep away dark spirits, and greenery such as holly, ivy, bay, and rosemary – all suggesting either fertility or eternal life - was brought indoors. It is from these simple beginnings that we can trace the evolution of the Christmas festivities we recognise today.

The Christian faith layered its own traditions onto this time as an occasion to celebrate the birth of Christ: the Eve of the Festival was now the time to bring in the Yule Log, and to carefully light it with the embers of the previous fire, to ensure continuity. It burned over the 12 official days of ‘Christmas’ celebration – and this remained the significant method of celebrating Christmas until the introduction of Carols and the Nativity Scene in the Thirteenth century. A favoured ‘porridge’ of the time, made with beef and mutton, may even have been the fore-runner of Christmas pudding.

However, it is to the Tudors, who loved eating, drinking and impressing, that we turn to see the appearance of our ‘modern’ Christmas. This was the time when sugar began to make its presence felt in Europe – irresistible and expensive, dazzling and edible delights made from sugar soon began to appear on the tables of wealthy families.

Whimsies such as ‘Collops of bacon’ made from almonds and sugar – became very popular, as did the decorated almond paste called ‘marchpane’ (we know it better as ‘marzipan’), which could even be decorated with gold leaf! Christmas pudding now began to take on a familiar semblance of that which we know, as by 1595 the meat content was generally replaced by eggs, sugar, apples and prunes.

Hot mulled wine is now a popular feature of Christmas, but the Tudors invented a hot beverage called ‘Lamb’s Wool’, which was made with piping hot sherry, cider or ale: this was topped with spiced apples, which exploded in the liquid, leaving a ‘woolly’ top to decorate it!

Merriment, spectacle and feasting continued under the Stuarts, but the emergence of the Puritan movement curtailed these revelries. Puritans regarded Christmas – or ‘Christ-tide’ as it was known, to avoid the use of the Catholic-sounding ‘mass’ - as a dangerous time for innocent souls to fall victim to the vices of drinking, eating and gambling.

The Puritan feeling was that public rejoicing was a direct contradiction of reflective, personal worship they favoured, and some of their measures included the banning of singing carols and eating mince pies. This may well have (unintentionally) been a foundation block of the more private, ‘family Christmas’. With the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660, ‘good times’ were restored, and merry songs were once again sung by all.

By the time George I came to the throne in 1714, the ‘British Christmas’ was quite well-established, but it is the Hanoverians that we must thank for at least two features of Christmas which are almost as well-known today: the ‘typical’ plum pudding, and the standardisation of the notion of Twelve Days of Christmas!

The technique of meat preservation had improved considerably by this time, and the savoury elements in the Christmas pudding and the mince pie were removed, and replaced with sweetness, although their names remained the same. (George I had such a sweet tooth that he was known as the ‘Pudding King’!)

Much greater emphasis was now placed on the Twelve Days of Christmas - Twelfth Night in particular - and not just Christmas Day itself. Celebrated on 5th January (if you assume that Christmas Day is the first day of feasting) on the ‘Epiphany’ when, traditionally, the Magi visited the birthplace of Jesus, it became so important to the Georgians that by the end of their era, presents were being given on Twelfth Night, which became the time for feasting and games. (This tradition held fast through much of the Nineteenth century, when Twelfth Night was the most popular day of Christmas). It also became the custom to bake a ‘Twelfth Night Cake’, which would eventually be highly decorated, and shared by the masters and servants within a household: the origin of our ‘Christmas Cake’ can be seen here.

Without doubt, Queen Victoria’s reign is associated with the birth of ‘modern’ Christmas traditions – indeed, it is often claimed the Charles Dickens ‘invented’ the Christmas we know today – but there are one or two ‘facts’ which we must not take for granted…

If it often said that Prince Albert introduced the Christmas Tree to Great Britain, but this is simply untrue. Victoria and Albert were indeed pictured by the family tree in 1848, but the idea of bringing a tree into the house, and decorating it for the Festive Season, was the idea of George III’s Queen Charlotte, as early as the 1790’s – and she was following a long-existing German custom.

Baby changing facilitiesCoach parties acceptedCredit cards accepted (no fee)Disabled toiletsFacilities for groupsGift shopNational Trust PropertyOn-site cateringOn-site light refreshmentsPicnic sitePublic toiletsWheelchairs availableAccepts groupsFacilities for corporate hospitality

Children welcomeDogs accepted

Level access to ground floor rooms, tearooms and garden. No lift to upper floors.

Event details

Dates Times
Fri 15 Nov 2019 10:30 to 16:00
Sat 16 Nov 2019 10:30 to 16:00
Sun 17 Nov 2019 10:30 to 16:00
Fri 22 Nov 2019 10:30 to 16:00
Sat 23 Nov 2019 10:30 to 16:00
Sun 24 Nov 2019 10:30 to 16:00
Fri 29 Nov 2019 10:30 to 16:00
Sat 30 Nov 2019 10:30 to 16:00
Sun 1 Dec 2019 10:30 to 16:00
Fri 6 Dec 2019 10:30 to 16:00
Sat 7 Dec 2019 10:30 to 16:00
Sun 8 Dec 2019 10:30 to 16:00
Fri 13 Dec 2019 10:30 to 16:00
Sat 14 Dec 2019 10:30 to 16:00
Sun 15 Dec 2019 10:30 to 16:00


Normal admission prices apply.


Nr Helmsley,
YO62 5UY



See location of Nunnington Hall on Google mapsSee location on Google maps

Map reference: SE 669793  Lat: 54.20509 Long: -0.97585

4 1/2 miles South East from Helmsley off the A170

Parking: free


  • Baby changing facilitiesBaby changing facilities
  • Coach parties acceptedCoach parties accepted
  • Credit cards accepted (no fee)Credit cards accepted (no fee)
  • Disabled toiletsDisabled toilets
  • Facilities for groupsFacilities for groups
  • Gift shopGift shop
  • National Trust PropertyNational Trust Property
  • On-site cateringOn-site catering
  • On-site light refreshmentsOn-site light refreshments
  • Picnic sitePicnic site
  • Public toiletsPublic toilets
  • Wheelchairs availableWheelchairs available
  • Accepts groupsAccepts groups
  • Facilities for corporate hospitalityFacilities for corporate hospitality
  • Children welcomeChildren welcome
  • Dogs acceptedDogs accepted

Level access to ground floor rooms, tearooms and garden. No lift to upper floors.