Celebrations

The fourth Thursday in November is American Thanksgiving. This is at least as big a holiday as Christmas in the US, with schools and even some workplaces shut for the Thursday and Friday.
As an aside, Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, was when shops were said to go into the black for the year - the first ten and a half months of the year paid the bills, and the profit came in the last month of trading.
'Happy Holidays' has been used in America along with 'Merry Christmas' and 'Happy New Year' ever since I can remember. It has always been a diverse country, and the high school I went to was about 1/3 Jewish, so it made sense. Besides, it was about having a holiday from work or school as well as Christmas!
Barbara Rowland

                                                                  Christmas
Above: Pop-up book of the Nativity. Circa 1950s
Jan Morris collection

1484
'To my right worshipful husband John Paston.
Right worshipful husband, I recommend me unto you Please it you to weet, that I sent your eldest son to my Lady Morley to have knowledge what sports were used in her house in Christmas next following after the decease of my lord, her husband. And she said that there were none disguisings, nor harpings, nor luting, nor singing nor none loud disports, but playing at the tables, and chess and cards. Such disports she gave her folks leave to play and none other.'
Paston Letter CCCCXLL, V vol ii, page 331

                                                                               Some Christmas foods
Sprouts
1587 Rembertus Dodonaeus, a Dutch botanist, describes Brussels sprouts.
http://www.foodreference.com/html/fbrusselssprouts.html

'These delicate little sprouts, or miniature cabbages, should be gathered when not larger than a common walnut, and after being trimmed free from any decayed leaves, and washed very thoroughly, should be thrown into a pan of water properly salted, and boiled from eight to ten minutes...Rich melted butter must be sent to  table with them. This is the Belgian mode of dressing this excellent vegetable, which is served in France with the sauce poured over it...'
Eliza Acton, Modern Cookery in All its Branches, London 1845, p331

'When the cook is very expeditious, this vegetable, when cooked, may be arranged on the dish in the form of a pineapple, and so served, has a very pretty appearance.
Isabella Beeton, Mrs Beeton's Household Management, 1861,  p538

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A Boar's Head

'The old chronicles of this Island tell us that the boar's head soused was the first dish that was served up on Christmas day, that it was carried with great solemnity to the principal table, a carol being sung while it was serving up. The custom is still retained, we are told, at Queen's College, Oxford, at Christmas time.
Israel Worsley, An Enquiry into the origin Christmas-day, Plymouth 1820, p17

'As a distinctive feature of the Queen's calendar, the Boar's Head Gaudy is not to be missed. The Gaudy combines the Boar's Head Ceremony, followed by drinks in the Upper Library and dinner in Hall.
Update 5/11/2018 Bookings for the Boar's Head Gaudy 2018 and the waiting list are now closed.'
https://www.queens.ox.ac.uk/BHG2018

Right:
Bringing in the Boar's Head
St. J. Gilbert, Christmas Supplement to the Illustrated London News, 1855. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
                                                                                                
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Furmety
'In this part of Yorkshire, and I believe in many other agricultural parts of the county, an old and favourite custom is the preparation of a dish called "furmety", pronounced by many people "frummety", for supper on Christmas Eve. It is prepared by taking wheat, wetting it, knocking off the husk, and creeing it in the oven or over a fire. When required for use, it is boiled with milk, lythed or thickened with flour, and sweetened and seasoned according to taste. For more than thirty years I do not remember passing Christmas Eve without it...'
Notes and Queries, vol V, Jan-June 1876, London, p418

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'The old carol says:
"Then comes in the second course with great pride,
The cranes, the herons, the bitterns, by their side,
The partridges, the plovers, the woodcock, and the snipe;
Larks in hot stew for the ladies to pick:
Good drink also, luscious and fine,
Blood of Allemaine, romnay and wine.
With Hey!

Good brewed ale and wine, I dare well say,
The boar's head with mustard armed so gay,
Furmety for pottage, and venison fine,
And the humbles of the doe, and all that ever comes in;
Capons well baked, with knuckles of the roe,
Raisins and currants, and other spices too.
With Hey!"

...Here however, there is no notice of the turkey and chine; none of the more famous roast beef which is now the chief dish of Christmas dinners.'
The Christmas Book: Christmas in the Olden Time, its customs and their origin, p29

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                                                                                     The 1600s
1666 'Christmas Day. Lay pretty long in bed. And then rise, leaving my wife desirous to sleep, having sat up till 4 this morning seeing her maids make mince-pies. I to church, where our parson Mills made a good sermon. Then home, and dined well on some good ribbs of beef roasted and mince-pies.'
Robert Latham and William Matthews, ed, The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Vol VII, 1666, p420

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1685 A Bill of Fare for Christmas Day, and how to set the meat in order
Oysters
A collar of brawn
Stewed broth of mutton marrow bones
A grand sallet
A pottage of caponets
A breast of veal in stoffado
A boil'd partridge
A chine of beef or surloin roast
Minced pies or chewits of capon, tongue, or of veal
A chine of pork
A pasty of venison

A swan, or two geese roast
A loyn of veal
A French pie of divers compounds
A roast turkey
A pig roast
A farc't dish baked
Two brangeese roasted, one larded
Souc't veal
Two capons roasted, one larded
A double bordered custard
Robert May, The accomplisht Cook, or the Art and Mystery of Cookery, 1685

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The minced pies mentioned above would have had meat in them as well as sugar and spices. The following recipe was found amongst the state papers of Charles I.

1624 'For six Minst Pyes of an Indifferent Bigness
Take halfe a peck of the finest Flower, 2 li(bra)s of Butter, a Loyne of fatt Mutton, w(i)th a little of a Legg of Veale to mince w(i)th it, 2 li(bra)s of Reasons of the Sunn, as many Currons, of Cloves, Mace, and Nuttmeggs one ownce.
For the Paist mingle 1 pound and a halfe of Suger w(i)th the Flower and breake in the Yolkes of six Eggs, then worke it together w(i)th 3 parts of the two pounde of Butt(e)r. Set of a little water, and let it Seethe, then scym it, put in the 4th Parte of the Butt(e)r, when it is melted, Scym it cleane from the Water, work it w(i)th the Paist.
For the Meate. Let it be seasoned w(i)th Pepper, and mingled with halfe a pounde of Suger, the other Frute and Spyce, the Raisons must be stoned,& someof them minced among the meate, the others put in hole, put in the Joyce of two Orrignes and one Leamond, and the Ryne of them smale minced.
When the Pyes are filled slice Dates and stick in the top, when you sett them into the oven. Wassh them over w(i)th the yolkes of Eggs, and pynn them upp in Papers.'
http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/palaeography/pdf/doc_15.pdf
Above: For six minst pyes of an indifferent bigness
Courtesy of The National Archives

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                                                                             The 20th century
                                                                                             
Christmas can be costly, and this is not a recent phenomenom:
'False teeth bought (any kind), also old jewellery. Christmas expenses covered by turning your old watchcases, rings, chains, spoons and teeth, or anything you may have that is not in actual use, into hard  cash.'
Western Times 30 December 1913, p4, col2

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                                                                             The 1920s and 30s
Anne Berry wrote the following when she was a child. It consists of the memories of her grandmother, Gwen, who was born in 1924.
'Gwen's memories of Christmas were always exciting. She would usually receive a hamper from her granny, which usually contained a goose or chicken (not alive!), a tin of cream, and other goodies, not forgetting a little money. On Christmas Eve her father would go to the countryside to get something to stand as a tree: a branch of evergreen or a branch of holly. This was put into a flowerpot and decorated with their precious collection or ornaments and candleholders. The decorations were a gift from a neighbour who was a sea captain on a trading boat. He brought a box fo them back from abroad, glass baubles of all different shapes in red, silver, blue, pink and gold. Also clip on birds in silver and blue. The candles were lit after dark on Christmas Eve and again on Christmas Day.
There were visits to her grandparents where they would sometimes have a meal.
Above and above right: A tin that would have contained cream
Frances Berry collection
  They would walk home where the lights would shine through the windows so that everyone could see the trees as the curtains were left undrawn. They would hang their stockings at the end of their bed and one year her father was replacing her full stocking at the end of the bed when she awoke and sat bolt upright, wondering what was going on. He had to lie on his tummy out of sight and wait for her to go to sleep again!'

                                                                                              
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                                                                                      The Second World War

Rationing.
Many food items were rationed during WWII (1939-1945) and rationing continued for some years afterwards.
See the At War section

Right: What appears to be an advertisement for something you could not buy - a notice in the bottom right hand corner reads: 'Still a pre-war memory, so long as present austerities must continue.'
Housewife magazine, November 1949
Frances Berry collection
                                                                                          
                                                                                       The 1950s

Right and below: 'My grandmother kept a notebook listing all the presents she bought. These pages are from 1958'
Vanessa Griffith collection
'One year she gave me a set of 5 Enid Blyton books - I absolutely loved them.'
Vanessa Griffith

'I really really wanted Meccano, but I was a girl, and the eldest of five. I never got any.'
Kathy Cantwell