Stuart Christmas Decorations

A Stuart Christmas could last for months, how did they decorate their houses?

Just as we decorate our houses at Christmas, so did the Stuarts. The Queen's House here in Greenwich would have been decorated with evergreens
Christmas tree at the Queen's House
Christmas trees at the Queen's House, what would the Stuarts use?


Was the symbol for everlasting life. People believed that it protected them against storms, fire and evil.


Was thought to ensure the birth of healthy children and keep away the plague.


Was thought to be both holy and magical. People also believed that it protected them against evil and it was also kept for remembrance.


Was the most magical of all. This ancient plant protected against witches and brought good luck.

What was the kissing bough?

Before the Christmas tree was introduced in Victorian times, the kissing bough was the most popular Christmas decoration. It was formed from two hoops of cane, decorated with holly, ivy and rosemary. From the bottom of the hoop hung a bunch of mistletoe. The kissing bough was hung from the ceiling to look as if it was growing from a tree. Sometimes, red apples and oranges or wooden figures of the Virgin Mary, St. Joseph and the baby Jesus were hung inside. Candles were attached to complete the bough. Every time a kiss was claimed under the bough the young men picked off a berry. When the berries were gone the kissing had to stop!

Did you know..?

After Twelfth Night all the decorations had to be taken down and burnt, except green holly – that was unlucky. It was considered bad luck to leave any decoration up after 6 January.
"Down with the rosemary
Down with the rosemary and so,
Down with the baies and mistletoe,
Down with the holly, ivie, all
Wherewith ye drest the Christmas hall.
That so the superstitious find
Not onle least branch there left behind,
For look, how many leaves there be,
Neglected there, maids trust to me
So many goblins you shall see."
Collecting a Yule log
An illustration of people collecting a Yule log from Chambers Book of Days (1832)

What was a yule log?

This was not a chocolate cake as it is today. It was a special ash log and had to be large enough to fit into a Stuart fireplace, which were big. The yule log was chosen on Christmas Eve, wrapped around with hazel twigs and dragged home in triumph. It was supposed to burn throughout the 12 days of Christmas.

Did you know..?

A piece of the log was always saved to light the next year's yule log.
"Kindle the Christmas brand, and then
'Til sunset let it burn
Which quenched, then lay it up again,
'Til Christmas next return.
Part must be kept, where with to tend
The Christmas log next year;
And if 'tis safely kept, the Fiend
Can do no mischief here."

Christmas gifts

Gifts were given on 1 January and everyone gave and received them. The landlord gave his workers a feast, in return they gave him small gifts from the land on which they worked - such as chicken and apples.
Courtiers gave gifts to the king and queen and they gave gifts in return. Leather gloves were popular presents. Other fashionable gifts included sweets such as marzipan, sugared fruit, embroidered hankies, jewellery, pomanders and other scented presents.
In a single Christmas, Charles I was given over 70 pairs of leather gloves!
17th century gloves from the Glove Collection Trust
17th century gloves on display in Pepys exhibition, from the Glove Collection Trust
To find out more about the luxury and excess of the Stuart court see Samuel Pepys: Plague, Fire, Revolution