What would Christmas really be like at Downton Abbey?

"It was much more formal but I think they enjoyed it just as much," says the ITV period drama's historical advisor Alastair Bruce

Christmas at Downton Abbey isn’t all proposals in the snow and Carson roasting chestnuts on an open fire. There aren’t fights over the last After Eight while aunt Isobel snores in the corner and Violet helps herself to one too many Baileys’. 


Though we like to see similarities between ourselves and the Crawleys (class, style, grace and poise, for starters…) Christmas was actually a rather different affair back in 1924. 

“It was much more formal but I think they enjoyed it just as much,” Downton Abbey’s historical advisor Alastair Bruce told us. “They were more formalised.”

“Christmas has rituals and protocols,” says Bruce, as well as priorities that we’ve long since left out in the cold. “Do you go to Church? Nowadays less people do than did. The whole of both above stairs and below stairs would have gone to church and that was very much at the centre of how Christmas was marked.”

And it’s not just about remembering and honouring the origins of the festive period. The month leading up to Christmas wouldn’t have been filled with festive drinks, raucous parties and mountains of mince pies like ours is…

“The traditions too would have involved a certain amount of restraint before in the few days leading up to Christmas. That has gone now!

“We just, you know, fork the food in but it was a Christian feast at the end of a period of contemplative fasting in preparation for the birth of Christ,” says Bruce.

And, for obvious reasons, they didn’t sit down as a family to watch the telly in the evening. Fortunately, times have indeed changed, and we are lucky enough to get two hours of Downton Abbey this Christmas Day.

“I’ve been working very closely with the producer who loved finding detail in the background. What I’m keen for you to look out for in this episode is the detail in the background. Not always what’s happening here but what’s behind, what walks past and what’s in that room. All of that we have enjoyed getting right.” 


Downton Abbey returns on Christmas Day at 9:00pm on ITV