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There are many delicious foods that we associate with Christmas day dinner! It’s lovely to sit around the table with your family and good friends, to tuck into Christmas favourites like roast turkey, crispy roast potatoes and crunchy green sprouts.  Or maybe not the sprouts for everyone?! Then there’s pudding, with a choice of mince pies dolloped with thick cream, or a slice of Christmas cake or perhaps a lovely, huge portion of Christmas pudding! Whatever we like to eat on Christmas Day, one thing is for certain, food plays a central role in our celebrations. Inside the collection at The National Archives there are hundreds of documents that can tell us about the food eaten at Christmas, from Tudor times through to the twentieth century. These documents include adverts for Christmas food, recipes and even photographs of some of this festive fare! Below are a selection of a few of our favourite documents relating to food at Christmas in the past.

See what you can find out about Christmas food from looking at these documents and answering the questions. Then, if you’d like to get crafty and creative, take a look at some of our ideas for making food inspired Christmas decorations or even have a go at baking our medieval recipe for mince pies!

Craft activity

Now that you’ve explored the archive documents all about Christmas food, you can use them as inspiration to get crafty and creative! Have a go at some of these fun activities!

  • Design your own Christmas day dinner plate, filling it with all of the foods that you’d like to eat for Christmas Day dinner! You might enjoy eating something quite traditional like roast turkey, or maybe you’d like to invent your own weird and wonderful Christmas dishes such as chocolate covered sprouts or Mince Pies filled with real minced meat! Draw or write about your ideas, or you could even have a go at making them out of play-dough or clay.
  • Make your own Christmas food inspired decorations. Take a look at some of the ideas on Pinterest for making polymer clay Christmas puddings and gingerbread men to hang on your Christmas tree!
  • Take a look at our bonus document, an Early Modern recipe for Christmas mince pies (SP 14/189 f.7, Six Mince Pies of Indifferent Bigness!) Now have a go at following an adapted version of this recipe. Which do you prefer to eat, seventeenth century savoury pies or the sweet mince pies we have today?
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These documents show different types of food eaten at different times in history. What similarities and differences can you see between the foods we eat today, and the Christmas food that people chose to eat in the past? Why do you think that what we choose to eat at Christmas changes over time?

Fun Food Facts

Did you know…

  • Christmas Mince Pies were originally made using minced meat. Recipes show that variations included pork meat, mutton and even ox tongue! Figs, raisins, honey and spices were also added along with the meat, to create this festive fare.
  • Christmas Cake was originally known as Plum Porridge and then, over time, other fruits and honey were added and the Christmas Pudding was born. In the sixteenth century, flour, eggs and spices were added, to create the rich fruitcake we recognise as Christmas Cake today.
  • Roasted Boar’s head was a popular choice at medieval Christmas banquets, long before Turkey was introduced as a Christmas meat.
  • Roasted peacock was also a fashionable choice of meat, but more for the wealthy, from medieval times onwards.