Join Lucy Worsley on a 12-day extravaganza as she discovers that much of what we enjoy in contemporary Christmas — from carols to gift-giving, feasting and drinking — was just as popular 500 years ago, with some surprising Tudor twists. — Airing Sunday, Nov. 29 at 5:30 p.m. and again on Sunday, Dec. 20 at 3:00 pm and Tuesday, Dec. 22 at 7:00 pm.
Lucy Worsley recreates how Christmas was celebrated during the age of Henry VIII — eating, drinking, singing, dancing and partying like people did 500 years ago. She’s getting into Tudor clothes, and inside Tudor minds — discovering the roots of some of the Christmas customs we still enjoy today, and exploring why other festive traditions fell out of favor.
With the help of food historian Annie Gray, she rolls up her sleeves to prepare two royal feasts in the kitchens of Hampton Court Palace. Dressed as Henry himself for the King’s Christmas dinner, Lucy samples a stuffed boar’s head served by a choir singing its praises; later she munches on a marzipan chess set, and tastes a giant forerunner of the Christmas cake.
Lucy joins Tudor carol-singers to hear a festive hit penned by Henry; experiences the rabble rousing fun and chaos created by the Lord of Misrule; and enjoys the kind of spectacular dance-based entertainment staged at court.
She also explores how ordinary Tudors liked to enjoy themselves, and why the holidays were such a welcome break. She discovers how many people relied on charity to see them through the winter, and why Christmas was the only time it was legal to play most games and sports! Lucy decks her Tudor hall with traditional decorations, tastes the ale and mead which were popular Christmas drinks for humble folk, and brings back to life a strange and spooky Christmas custom which was the forerunner of Halloween trick or treating.
Lucy also encounters priceless records in the British National Archives, which show exactly how much Henry VIII’s lavish Christmas celebrations cost. She discovers that the Tudor version of Christmas gift-giving was an occasion for very big spending. She even receives some of the presents that were offered to Henry VIII in 1532, which ranged from money and bling to a pair of greyhounds, and a giant boar spear from Anne Boleyn.
Alongside all the partying, Tudor Christmas was more focused on religion than it is for many people today. Lucy reminds us how the celebrations followed a month’s fasting during Advent; and visits one of the ornate royal chapels where Henry himself worshipped to explore how the religious Reformation he unleashed would change Christmas forever.