Nicola here, wishing everyone a very happy festive season! Last week I had a gorgeous time visiting Basildon Park, a stately home that has featured in many a costume drama from Downton Abbey to Pride and Prejudice. At this time of year many British historic houses are “dressed for Christmas” and you can wander through the rooms seeing how the inhabitants celebrated during eras gone by.
Preparing the “big house” for Christmas is a major job. Often plans for Christmas are made in March, eight months ahead, and a huge band of staff and volunteers come together to set up the whole show. In some houses one time period is chosen as the theme throughout. In others, each room represents Christmas in a different era. At Standen House, built in the Victorian period, they have a mixture of rooms decorated to reflect the late 1800s through to the present day. One of their favourite decorations is a Christmas card dating from 1882 – people donate their own historical Christmas decorations to dress the house. In the 1960s themed room the emphasis seems to be on cocktails, especially a Christmas tipple called Gin and French, which was popular at the time!
At Corfe Castle they go back to Tudor times with traditions that include the Lord of Misrule and the mummers performing plays and masques. Visitors can partake of mulled wine and mincemeat, join in the story telling around the fire and make traditional Tudor pomanders and holly wreaths with oranges and pine cones. A Tudor Christmas was a riotous affair where all the social classes mingled and a great deal of merriment warded off the dark days of Winter. There are plenty of re-enactors in costume in all the historic houses to show how it was done!
I loved everything Christmassy about Basildon Park. There was a "winterlight walk" up to the house, lit by tiny white lights strung through the trees. The house smelled of Christmas with a mingled scent of pine and spices. Each room looked magical with decorated trees, cosy log fires and candlelight. In the dining room there was the most elegant table decoration of holly, pine cones and fresh flowers. Out in the hall we all joined in singing Victorian Christmas carols around the grand piano. It made us all feel as though Christmas was just around the corner – which it is!
What is your favourite way of “dressing the house” (or yourself!) for the holiday season?