Stately homes at Christmas
Part of the joy of living in the United Kingdom is that you’re never too far away from a slice of history. These islands have seen an enormous amount of it, over the years – and since they’re so small, the history tends to be tightly-packed together in such a way that everyone living here can easily take a trip to a local stately home.
At this time of year, all of those 16th, 17th, and 18th-century manor houses owned by the National Trust tend to come into their own, becoming suddenly filled with Christmas trees, festive music and sparkling things. Almost inevitably, there are festive foodstuffs to be tucked into, too. You’ll find all manner of festive events, including concerts, meals, workshops and shopping opportunities – besides all of the usual history you’d normally get on a visit to a stately home.
What more could the average Briton want from a day out in the run up to Christmas?
The history of stately homes at Christmas
For years, owners of stately homes have used Christmas as an opportunity to throw open their doors to the wider public, and share some of the festive year. Nowadays, many of the historic buildings in the UK are in the hands of the National Trust and similar charitable organisations. In order to keep these buildings in good repair, it’s vital to generate income – and Christmas provides a way of doing just that, and demonstrating some of what made the season so captivating to Christians (and everyone else) in years gone by. If you’re looking for a setting in which to meet a Victorian or Edwardian father Christmas, to try your hand at some authentic historical crafts, or to sample some authentic historical festive food, then this time of year is the perfect occasion.
Where to visit this Christmas
Let’s take a look at some of the places you might decide to visit this year.
This sprawling period estate is to be found in Cheshire. It contains an enormous mansion, a medieval manor house and a deer park that covers more than two thousand acres. Every year, the estate marks Christmas with a lantern parade, along with carol singing and actual reindeer. This year, they’ve been putting on a series of events throughout the year to mark the centenary of Roald Dahl. The climax of this celebration occurs with the mansion itself being transformed in typically Dahlian fashion, with the great man’s extraordinary stories woven into every stateroom and servant’s quarters.
This manor, in Buckinghamshire, was built by the famous Rothschild family in order to display their fabulous wealth. This year, it’s putting on a slew of festive events between November 9th and January 2nd. The theme this year is magical materials – and the manor’s many rooms will be decorated to fit the theme. You’ll also find a Christmas fair and a range of different workshops. Among the highlights will be a two-metre-long gingerbread model of the house.
This Victorian gothic house is to be found in North Somerset. It’s putting on an impressive holiday experience, filled with Victorian characters and the stories they have to tell. The centrepiece of the attraction is the Gibbs family ball, a two-night walk-in theatre event held over two consecutive nights.
This black-and-white estate can be found in Liverpool. It’s putting on all of the events you’d expect from a traditional stately home this Christmas – along with a dew that you might not. Included in the festivities are donkey rides, trails and carols, as well as visits from Father Christmas.
This Elizabethan manor house can be found in Cornwall. This year, the festivities will be suitably Tudor-inspired, featuring a Tudor Father Christmas, and a few dates in which guests can enjoy a four-course banquet with Sir John Arundell, a knight who was made receiver-general of the Duchy of Cornwall by Henry VII in 1509. Okay, it might be an actor – but it’s still the closest you’re likely to get to an authentic Tudor dining experience!
This fabulous house can be found in Shrewsbury, and dates back to the 18th century. This year, it’s hosting a series of events with a 1920s theme. You’ll be able to discover the traditions of the family that lived in Attingham throughout the jazz age – and you’ll be able to pay a visit to Santa Claus and a few of his helpers.
This house can be found in Devon. It’s set to be transformed with twinkling lights – both on the inside of the house, and throughout the vast grounds. There’ll be a harp concert and workshops in wreath-making, table-setting and fireplace-dressing. Father Christmas will also pay a visit, dressed in traditional Victorian green (or, as he looked before the 20th century marketing onslaught of Coca Cola).
This house in Suffolk will be putting on celebrations with a 1930s theme this year. You’ll be able to learn about the baking techniques of the era, and put together a Christmas pudding to take home to the family. You’ll also be able to participate in wreath-making workshops – and there are crafts events for kids on Boxing Day, too.
How are they decorated?
As we’ve seen, there’s some considerable competition among manor houses to put on the most interesting Christmas events. Consequently, you’ll find that no two are quite alike. That said, you’ll find some common themes running through each of them. The first is that manor houses must be decorated. While in a modern house you might find baubles and tinsel strewn liberally about the place, such decorations don’t often fit with the period aesthetic.
Consequently, you’re more likely to find more traditional decorative items like trees, wreaths and Victorian-style garlands. The sorts of decorations, in other words, which are quite scarce in modern Christmassy world of shopping centres and mass-production. If you’d like to take a break from the usual, and experience the real magic of Christmas, then a stately home will present a great opportunity. Why not take full advantage?