‘TWAS the night before Christmas...

Well not quite, but it felt like it, wandering around the rooms of Harewood House, beautifully decorated for the festive season.

For the first time since 2012, the historic property has opened its doors for a Christmas celebration, running until December 31. A Victorian Christmas at Harewood - a collaboration with award-winning fashion and film creative director Michael Howells - take inspiration from popular ITV drama Victoria which was filmed at the Yorkshire treasure house.

Michael Howells knows Harewood House well after producing set designs for the TV series. “Harewood has been an incredible place to work filming Victoria for the last two years. It’s a special place, filled with history and wonderful stories to tell,” he says.

It was in 1848, when the Illustrated London News published a drawing of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert with a decorated Christmas tree, that the now familiar festive rituals were first showcased in this country. By the end of the 19th Century, Christmas was a major celebration, with trees, homemade decorations, cards and gifts.

Harewood brings a Victorian Christmas to life with exquisite period decorations on its State Floor, one of the principal locations for ITV’s Victoria. With roaring open fires and splendid garlands, wandering from room to room is like stepping into a period drama. The scene is set for Christmas preparations; there are piles of handwritten cards on a writing desk, a trail of paper decorations on the rug, and assorted presents being wrapped. Nutcracker dolls are dotted about and magnificent Christmas trees take pride of place in each room.

Items on loan from Ilkley Toy Museum help to create a traditional family Christmas. There are some lovely touches - a dolls’ house opened up, toy soldiers and board games scattered across a fireside rug, a pyramid of playing cards, and china dolls sitting around miniature tea-sets.

A peaceful crib scene is set out beneath a Christmas tree, and the dining table is beautifully presented, with garlands and shimmering glassware. Just the kind of table you’d want to be seated at for Christmas dinner.

Stately country houses are like swans; on the surface all is elegant and lovely to look at, and underneath is a flurry of activity. Downstairs at Harewood, there’s a sense of the hustle and bustle that goes into making Christmas perfect. The house’s ‘Below Stairs’ gallery reveals the largely hidden world of servants and other staff; in the kitchen, with its huge range, rows of gleaming copper pans, and bowls and jars filled with spices, dried fruits, preserves and pickles, the air was filled with festive cooking smells. Alongside traditional fayre such as mince pies and parsnips were jars of marrow and ginger jam, mint and apple jelly and red cabbage with walnuts and stilton.

You could almost hear Cook barking orders at the kitchen maid, and the rows of servants bells still on the wall tinkling away. A fascinating oral history display plays recorded memories of people who have worked at Harewood over the years.

As well as experiencing a Victorian Christmas, visitors can enjoy a series of activities, including wreath-making, twilight tours and Fireside Father Christmas.

We ended our visit with a walk in the grounds, taking in the bird garden, which is home to more than 30 birds from around the world, including rare Bali starlings, colourful parrots and cockatoos, Chilean flamingos and a colony of Humboldt penguins, which are fun to watch waddling about at feeding time.

Also in the grounds are pot-bellied pigs and some charming donkeys. Christmas donkeys, naturally.

* A Victorian Christmas at Harewood runs until December 31.

* For more information call (0113) 218 1000 or visit Harewood.org