You can get a roast-owl for Christmas. 

Christmas Eve is here, and it’s snowing outside, Yule-log crackling inside the hearth, and it’s the most magical night in the year.

In the coaching inn down the road the menu offers a 47lb turtle, reindeers’ tongues, roast curlews and pigs’ heads, boars’ brains and 470 mince pies.

This bill of fare was auctioned at the Bush Inn, Bristol in 1790. It gives an instant glimpse of a lively and joyful Christmas past. And, as the 1800 menu (pictured below) shows, things hadn’t changed much by the beginning of the 19th century.

Historical delights: Elizabeth Taylor (second left) stars in period drama Beau Brummell

Historical delights: Elizabeth Taylor (second left) stars in period drama Beau Brummell

Although houses are decorated with fir trees, they do not get the same treatment as a house. Tradition holds powerful sway over the season, but there are no cards, no Santa Claus — these are to come, with the Victorian reinvention of Christmas.

This 18th century Christmas, however, is filled with presents, singing and delicious food. 

Charles II, in 1660 restored Christmas after its ban by Parliament.

Despite the decline in the number of people who live on the country’s land, traditions and customs of the 18th century agricultural year still dominate the countryside. Friends exchange presents and Christmastide starts on December 6.

The Twelve Days of Christmas are when most farm work stops. It will resume only on Plough Monday (the first Monday after Twelfth Night, January 6).

They are effectively furloughed and rely on their resources as well as the generosity of their landowners. Landlords and employers can give tenants and workers food, money, and gifts. The season’s beginnings bind whole communities as well as friends. We are honoring this tradition by opening presents tomorrow.

The description of the ice, like the excesses of the Bush Inn¿s menu ¿ 52 barrels of oysters and 121 larks, anyone? ¿ summon a world of soaring natural abundance

The description of the ice, like the excesses of the Bush Inn’s menu — 52 barrels of oysters and 121 larks, anyone? — summon a world of soaring natural abundance

The country celebrates Christmas Eve today with a joyful frenzy of decorating. You can’t bring any greenery to your home before December 24th, so our 18th century forebears rush in, decorating the rooms with herbs, holly, and kissing boughs. They also hang ribbons, candles, and other spices.

The evergreens are a salute to the turning of the season on the winter solstice, three days ago, the endurance of life through darkness and the world’s return journey to the light. The act of gathering them and placing them in order is one moment of solidarity. The dark green light of decorations arranged in Christ’s name will brighten any house, no matter how humble or powerful.

A Yule log wrapped in ribbons and hazeltwigs is placed into a large fireplace and lit. The logs burn until January 5th, and are adorned with the drama, mirth, and trees from all over the region.

One piece of the Yule log will be reused next year in order to make its replacement. To protect the Yule log’s inhabitants against witches, ash from it may be stored in the house or byre throughout the year. Norfolk is home to the most delicious cider, provided that the Yule log does not burn.

The heart of any celebration is, naturally, family, friends and good food. Dancing in and out of the pages of Jane Austen’s novels are Christmases ringing with balls and parties.

Families often travel with their relatives to be together, and the dance party lasts until four o’clock in the morning. Games and sports are popular: writing to his friend Samuel Taylor Coleridge on Christmas Eve, 1799, William Wordsworth reports: ‘Rydell is covered with ice, clear as polished steel. I bought two pairs of skates. Tomorrow, mean to give my body to the wind — not, however, without reasonable caution.’

The description of the ice, like the excesses of the Bush Inn’s menu — 52 barrels of oysters and 121 larks, anyone? — summon a world of soaring natural abundance. You will find birds, animals, and fish in the fields and woods. 

The Christmas season was filled with trapping, fishing, shooting, and trapping. Plenty of water was available.

Since the advent of Anglo-Saxons (5th century), Christmas has included the Wassail box. Wassailing was a term that has been passed from one friend to another and now refers to all of the fun associated with dancing and drinking. Waeshael is a Hebrew word that means whole and good health. The bowl contains sweet wines, brandy, hot ale or sweet wine flavored with apple, spice, sugar, and other ingredients.

Can you have minced pye for dinner? They are meaty, stuffed with 13 ingredients that represent Christ and his apostles. Suet, suet and cinnamon (also representing shepherds), sugar, nutmeg and orange peel. Raisins, prunes currants, cloves. salt, ginger, and any other fruit desired by the cook: The taste is rich and long-lasting.

Due to cheap sugar coming from West Indies slave plantations they have become sweeter. Soon the meat will also be gone. These look a lot like burst belly. It is not a reference to your waistline — it is a crib-shape. Georgians don’t see anything wrong with eating the King of Kings’ cot.

Georgians are not afraid to eat almost any food. One famous Georgian breakfast, which Joseph Budworth had at Grasmere, Lake District in 1792 included a stuffed roast chicken, boiled chicken and veal cutlets as well as cabbage, peas, potatoes, anchovy sauce and butter, cheese and oat cakes and three cups of gooseberries.

The gentry prefer venison for Christmas. However, beef and goose are also popular. The turkey eaten by Henry VIII in 1523 was the first of millions: by the 18th century the birds are marched to London’s markets along the roads from East Anglia in droves.

Part of the song is the crackling of fires and rattle of pots. But houses and churches also ring with their singing.

Today, many of the most beautiful carols can be found online, including Hark! The Herald Angels Sing — like many, the latter was overhauled.

Written as a sombre melody in 1739, it reached us in its present form via a tune written by Felix Mendelssohn (to commemorate Guttenberg’s invention of the printing press), words by Charles Wesley’s and an adaptation by the 19th-century musician William H. Cummings. As if threads of song, Christmases can be woven through the years in sinuous ways.

The Yule log is burning on Christmas Eve in 18th century, as candlelight glows and shadows dance and candles sparkle. Tomorrow will bring us to church, parlour games and singing and to the unveiling of the Twelve Days. The whole Christmas season is our focus.

Twelfth Night is just as thrilling as Christmas Day. This feast features large, ornately decorated plum cake and loud parties.

James Boswell recorded walking through London streets in 1762, eating cake from each stall that he came across. Christmas Eve and Twelfth Night were played out in games that included snapdragon and bobbing for apples.

Dr Johnson’s dictionary describes snapdragon as: ‘A play in which they catch raisins out of burning brandy and, extinguishing them by closing the mouth, eat them,’ which sounds at least as much fun as Monopoly.

When you look back through the centuries, to see what the Christmas atmosphere was like in the 18th century’s music and food, you will be struck by how much has remained the same.

We all want to spend time with one another, to share food, gifts, play games, sing and be thankful, no matter if it is God, luck, or each other. As our forefathers knew 300 years ago, companionship and care make the most difficult days brighter.