Each year when December comes around, England lights up – speaking both literally and metaphorically. Whether falling snow turns the country into a winter wonderland or whether it’s just a crisp, cold chill in the air, there’s a truly palpable feeling of Christmas magic that spreads through our cities and towns.
Once upon a time, Christmas looked rather different to how it does now, but if you look closely at the past, you’ll spot many traditions that resemble those of today.
Just one of England’s many historic houses and only a short drive from Bath, Dyrham Park is a 17th Century country house set within a deer park. Visiting Dyrham at any time of year is quite an enchanting experience, but at Christmas time it offers a rare glimpse into Christmas celebrations of the past.
If you pay Dyrham Park a visit this Christmas time, you’ll be immersed in the festivities of the 17th Century, with festive greenery decking the halls, carols sung by local choirs in the neighbouring St Peter’s Church and pop-up performances on various days throughout December. You’ll get the chance to learn about the history of the house and the Christmases that its inhabitants once enjoyed. Surrounded by the grandeur, it’s not difficult to imagine the Blathwayt family, who made the house the place you see today, delighting in Christmases all those years ago.
Despite the merriment enjoyed by Dyrham Park’s 17th Century dwellers, Christmas actually wasn’t largely celebrated in England until the end of the 19th Century. We predominantly have Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria, to thank for bringing about many of our modern Christmas traditions. Prince Albert, who was from Germany, brought the concept of the Christmas tree over to England. In 1848, an illustration of the Royal Family around their decorated tree was published by Illustrated London News and soon enough it became a country-wide tradition.
It was also during the Victorian era that the singing of carols was popularised. Christmas carols did exist before this time but the tradition was revived by the Victorians, who put the words of old carols to new music and revelled in this musical form of entertainment.
Of course, we now see lavishly decorated Christmas trees in the windows of most homes in England, as well as at the centre of many villages, towns and cities; Carols are sung nationwide and many other traditions of the past live on, all helping to shape what Christmas means to us today.
Today, England has more Christmas joy to offer than ever. If you picture Christmas in England now, the image you conjure up will quite possibly be one of a quaint Cotswolds cottage covered in snow, with red post boxes and picket fences peeking through the white. Or perhaps the Bath Christmas market and old English pubs nestled in amongst historic streets. These aren’t just scenes out of a film but the reality we’re blessed with in our wonderful area of England.
The Cotswolds is a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), famous for it’s ‘chocolate box’ villages and the rich honey-coloured stone from which they’re built. When it comes to Christmas in the Cotswolds, we’re truly spoilt for choice. There’s a huge array of towns and villages, all very much worth a visit and all with wonderful places to eat and drink. If it’s whiling away the hours in front of the fire with a glass of mulled wine in hand that takes your fancy, the Cotswolds have so many choices to offer but where better to start than England’s oldest hotel, The Old Bell? The Old Bell stands in the historic town of Malmesbury, with endless local history to discover, not least the 12th Century Abbey that it stands right next to.
Christmas lights are all part and parcel of a 21st Century Christmas and England is no exception. Light festivals will set many places aglow across the country, some beautiful enough to evoke that wondrous sense of awe.
Blenheim Palace, a historic – and very wonderful – house in Oxfordshire, will see its annual Illuminated Christmas Lights Trail return between 23rd of November 2018 and the 1st of January 2019. A little closer to London, the Kew Royal Botanical Gardens in Richmond also put on a rather beautiful light display through the formal garden. Whilst you’re so close to London, it would also be remiss of us not to mention our capital city’s Christmas street light displays. The most famous is, of course, Oxford Street, but there are displays worth seeing all over the city. A little closer to Bath is Westonbirt Arboretum, a huge garden of trees, including 15,000 different specimens. Westonbirt offers a beautiful place to explore at any time of year but, at Christmas, a trail through the trees is lit up in the aptly named ‘Enchanted Christmas’.
Of course, the city of Bath itself also has an incredible amount of Christmas cheer to share, not least through its Christmas market. The Bath Christmas market is one of the most popular in the UK – and for good reason! 180 decorated chalets line the charming streets of the city, with local makers selling their artisan products. Spend a while and mosey around the stalls, finding those perfect Christmas gifts that you won’t find on the high street and sampling mulled wine and edible treats.
Bath Abbey offers a wonderful respite from shopping with Christmas carol services open to all. For times and dates of these services, you can visit the Abbey’s calendar here. For those that fancy taking the weight off their feet in a slightly more child-like manner, from the 14th to the 30th of December, you’ll also find a Victorian Carousel on Stall Street, a shopping street right in the heart of the city.
All in all, there’s nowhere better than England to immerse your senses in Christmas festivity. To discover an authentic English Christmas for yourself, join us for an ‘England at Christmas’ experience and spend the day among friends, cosying up by open fires, eating mince pies, drinking mulled wine, and wandering along wonderful cobbled streets.