This Christmas prepare for dazzling new light trails at some of our most popular sites and experience sprawling grounds and historic gardens bathed in a magical world of illumination, sound and colour. 

Before your visit, explore this page and discover the history behind some of your favourite traditions, from gift-giving, Christmas cards and more

Explore our sites this twixmas

Looking for new adventures this festive season? We've put together a list of sites that are perfect for exploring with the family, from mighty castles to famous abbeys, get planning days out that are brimming with history this Christmas.

You can find all of our sites open over the festive period here.

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Festive Feasting

Discover original recipes and the history behind your favourite Christmas dishes

From celebrating 500 years of the turkey, popularised by Henry VIII, to revealing the sometimes surprising history of festive food that has been reinvented and revived for centuries. 

Inspired by original recipes, have yourself a merry Christmas with an authentic festive spread on the big day. 

  • Make your own festive Tudor Toastie

    Created in collaboration with sandwich-expert Max Halley, our Tudor Feast Christmas Sandwich takes its cue from the grand feasts enjoyed by Henry VIII on Christmas Day.

  • A History of the Christmas Pudding

    Sam Bilton looks at the origins of the Christmas pudding, revealing some historical recipes to try at home, including medieval figgy pudding and a classic Victorian Christmas pudding recipe.

  • History of Gingerbread

    From festively shaped biscuits to extravagantly decorated gingerbread houses, uncover gingerbread's medieval origins and significance in Queen Victoria’s household. 

Norman Rockwell's Santa with Elves appeared on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post in December 1922

What do elves have to do with Christmas?

Where does the mythology of elves come from, and why are they associated with Christmas? Professor Ronald Hutton traces the story of elves, from their prehistoric origins to the present day.

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Christmas Through the Ages

  • Why do we give gifts at Christmas?

    Giving and receiving gifts at Christmas is one of the joys of the festive season. But why do we engage in this annual tradition?

  • History of Christmas

    Discover the history of Christmas through time, starting around 5,000 years ago in the Neolithic and evolving traditions throughout the centuries.


    Christmas is one of the major festivals of the Christian church. Find out how it was marked by the monks at Rievaulx Abbey?


    Special effort has been made across the social spectrum to mark Christmas. Here are five culinary highlights from medieval England.

  • The History of Father Christmas

    The jolly old man who sneaks into our houses every 24 December is beloved across the world. But should you call him Father Christmas, St Nicholas or Santa Claus?


    Christmas marks the anniversary of William the Conqueror’s coronation. Find out about the coronation after a turbulent 1066.

  • Christmas Dinners Through History

    Explore festive feasts through time, from prehistoric midwinter feasts, to Tudor banquets fit for Henry VIII and a 1930s dinner you might recognise.

  • The Twelve Days of Christmas

    We all know the popular song, but which days are the twelve days of Christmas? Explore some of these traditions and discover how the Tudors celebrated Christmas.

Victorian Christmas Crafts

Christmas crackers, gilded walnuts, pin-prick cards and paper flowers

The Victorians popularised many Christmas traditions we know and love, decorating their homes just as we do today. Most of their decorations and gifts were made using household items and are surprisingly simple to make.

Watch our video and click on the links below to discover easy guides and templates to make your own Victorian Christmas crafts. 

  • Make your own: CHRISTMAS CRACKERS

    The Christmas cracker can be traced back to the middle of the 19th century and London confectioner Tom Smith. Smith patented his first cracker in 1847 and perfected the mechanism in the 1860s. It was Smith's son Walter who had the idea of including paper hats and novelty gifts. 

  • Make your own: PIN-PRICK CARDS

    Christmas cards date back to 1843 when civil servant Henry Cole commissioned a card showing a family around a dinner table. The idea caught people’s imaginations and with advances in colour printing technology, the sending of cards had become hugely popular by the 1880s.


  • make your own: PAPER FLOWERS

    Making paper flowers was a popular craft activity among wealthy Victorian women. Hundreds of articles from magazines at the time showed how to make elaborate imitation flowers, which were displayed throughout the house and were considered an indispensable personal accessory.

  • More Victorian Christmas Traditions

    From presents to puddings, you can bet Queen Victoria had something to do with their history. In fact, the Victorian age played a big part in establishing the traditions of Christmas we still practice today. Discover just how important the Victorians were in the celebration of Christmas.