The Victorian Christmas

Who doesn’t love Christmas traditions? And yet the way we celebrate the season now is relatively new. Before Queen Victoria’s time, Christmas was barely celebrated at all and gift giving was usually done at the New Year.

Contrary to popular belief, Mr Charles Dickens did not invent Christmas. However, he took the idea and ran with it, creating one of the most iconic ghost stories of our time, A Christmas Carol. Most of us associate the book, and the marvellous film versions of it, with a typical Victorian Christmas, but the commercialisation of the season came about due to two main influences; Queen Victoria marrying her German first cousin, Prince Albert; and the mass production of cheap goods due to the Industrial Revolution.

So, what did the Victorians do for our Christmas traditions?

Mother and daughter prepare the Christmas tree
Illustration Credit: ©iStock.com/clu

The Christmas Tree

Prince Albert brought many of the German Christmas traditions with him to England, including the Christmas tree. The first one was erected in Windsor Castle in 1841 and when the Illustrated London News published a drawing of the royal family celebrating around a decorated Christmas tree in 1848, the public went crazy for the idea. It wasn’t long before every home had a tree decked with homemade decorations and small gifts. The ‘traditional’ tree as we know it, free-standing on the floor, evolved with the German tradition of table-top Christmas trees.

Christmas Gifts & Santa Claus

Gradually as the season gained popularity, the exchange of gifts moved from the New Year to Christmas. Initially these were small items such as fruit, nuts, sweets and small handmade gifts which were hung on the Christmas tree. However, as gift giving became more popular, and the gifts became bigger, they moved under the tree.

As technology advanced, mass production became the norm in all industries and toy manufacture was no different. Cheap dolls, bears and clock-work toys were suddenly affordable for middle-class families with their new-found disposable income. However, in poorer households, a child would usually get an apple or an orange and maybe a few nuts.

Normally associated with the giving of gifts, is Father Christmas or Santa Claus. An old English midwinter festival featured Father Christmas who was normally dressed in green. He first appeared in the mid 17th century but fell foul of the Puritan controlled English government who legislated against Christmas, considering it papist! However, the origins of Santa Claus or St Nicholas were Dutch (Sinter Klaas in Holland). The American myth of Santa arrived in the 1850s with Father Christmas taking on Santa’s attributes. By the 1880s, the nocturnal visitor was referred to as both Santa Claus and Father Christmas.

The Christmas Cracker

Another item which was mass produced was the Christmas cracker. A sweetshop owner by the name of Tom Smith had the idea in the 1840s, having been inspired by the French tradition of wrapping sweets in twists of paper. By the 1860s, he had perfected the explosive bang and the Christmas cracker was soon a very popular item in Victorian homes.

The Christmas Card

Christmas greetings card, 1885
Illustration credit: ©iStock.com/Whitemay

Sir Henry Cole, the first director of the Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A), commissioned the artist J.C. Horsley to design a festive scene for his seasonal greeting cards in 1843. He had 1,000 printed and the left-over cards were sold to the public. Luckily, Rowland Hill had introduced the “Penny Post” in Britain in 1840, however, the price of one shilling for the cards meant they were not really accessible to most ordinary people. As a result, children were encouraged to make their own Christmas cards at home.

But industrialisation of colour printing technology quickly became more advanced and the price of card production dropped significantly. The popularity of sending cards was helped when a halfpenny postage rate was introduced in 1870 as a result of the efficiencies brought about by the vast network of railways. By the 1880s, the sending of cards had become hugely popular, with 11.5 million cards produced in 1880 alone.

Christmas Dinner

The origins of the meal date back to the Middle Ages but it was the Victorians who developed it to what it is today. The traditional meat at Christmas had been boar (in Medieval times) then goose and beef, but as the well-to-do Victorians began to consume turkey instead, the lower classes followed suit. Plum pudding and mince pies also gained huge popularity at this time. The Victorian love of lengthy meals with many courses still has echoes in our Christmas dinners today, when we generally eat and drink far too much.

19th century engraving of children 'The Christmas Carollers'; Artist Robert Barnes, engraver Joseph Swain; Victorian Christmas 1890
Illustration credit: ©iStock.com/Cannasue

Christmas Entertainment

Christmas was seen by the Victorians as a time for family and friends and they entertained lavishly. After dinner, they would sit around the piano and sing or play parlour games. Rail travel meant that loved ones from far and wide could come home to enjoy Christmas with the family.

Carols and caroling were extremely popular although not new by any means, having originated from the ‘waits’, an old English tradition of going from house to house and singing in exchange for food. The Victorians, revived the popularity of carols, with the first collection published in 1833. Most of the carols we sing today are ‘new’ versions of old carols which the Victorians adapted to suit their taste.

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It was the Victorian love of homecoming and the joy of family at Yuletide which partly inspired my novelette, Christmas at Malton Manor.

Christmas At Malton Manor CoverChristmas 1884: Home is where the heart is …

Kate Hamilton is companion to the dullest and meanest woman in England, but she is looking forward to going home for Christmas and her sister Mary’s wedding. When her employer refuses to release her, Colonel Robert Woodgate comes to the rescue.

Robert now owns Malton Manor, Kate’s old home in the village of Malton. Recently returned from the Boer War and recovering from his injuries, Robert has been reclusive and morose. Clashing several times over his plans and sweeping changes in the village, their relationship has always been tempestuous.

But when Kate returns to Malton, she discovers her sister’s wedding is to take place at Malton Manor and everyone is convinced the Colonel has an ulterior motive. Can Kate resist the lure of her old home and the memories it holds? And does she have the courage to break down Robert’s defences to find happiness at last?

Buy Link: http://MyBook.to/Malton

 

I’d like to take the opportunity to wish you all a Very Happy Christmas and a Peaceful New Year

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Conversation with Author Dianne Freeman

This evening in the Library we have ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Dianne Freeman, who has dropped in to say hello and to share some insights into her life as an author.

Dianne Freeman headshotA special welcome to you, Dianne. I love to chat with historical fiction authors, particularly those who write in the same time period as I do. Please tell us a little about yourself:

I’m a life-long book lover who retired from the world of corporate finance to pursue my passion for writing. After co-authoring the non-fiction book, Haunted Highway, The Spirits of Route 66, I realized my true love was fiction, historical mystery in particular. I also realized I didn’t like winter very much so now my husband and I pursue the endless summer by splitting our time between Michigan and Arizona.

Did you read much as a child? Are you an avid reader now? Do you prefer books in your own genre or are you happy to explore others?

When I was about eight years old, my family moved to a house about 3 blocks from the public library and I’ve been an avid reader ever since. I don’t get to read quite as much now as I used to but while historical mystery is my favorite genre, I enjoy all varieties of historical fiction and most types of mystery.

Are you self-published or traditionally published?

I’m traditionally published with Kensington Books.

Which genre do you write in and why?

I write historical mystery with a bit of humor. I started with this genre because it’s what I love to read. I continued because I enjoy digging into the late Victorian era, plotting a crime, then creating a story around it. I love leaving clues then leading readers in the wrong direction with a scattering of red-herrings.

Who has been the biggest influence on your writing?

I like to think if Janet Evanovich and Edith Wharton had ever been able to collaborate, they might have come up with a main character like my Frances Wynn. (I also like to think there are no calories in food eaten while standing so what do I know?) But I’ve definitely been influenced by Evanovich’s humor and the elite world of Wharton’s books.

Has your country of origin/culture influenced your writing?

 I’d imagine it must have, but not in anyway I could define.

What part of the writing process do you find most difficult? How do you overcome it?

I write in drafts, so every time I have to return to page one and start the next draft I have a moment of dread that I won’t be able to fix whatever is wrong. I’ve found if I print the draft and read it through first, maybe jotting a few (hundred) notes, I realize it’s not that bad and I can tackle whatever problems it presents.

Do you have a favourite time of day to write?

Late afternoon is my favorite time, but I like to take a walk to think about what I need to write before I sit down and actually do it, so sometimes weather can interfere with my writing schedule.

What is the best thing about being an author? And the flipside – what is the worst?

I have a feeling this is a common answer, but I love the whole process of writing—the research, plotting, spinning a tale—it’s like traveling to another world. Marketing and promoting aren’t all bad, they can actually be fun, but they really take up a lot of time.

Is social media an essential chore or something you enjoy? Which forum do you prefer?

I do enjoy social media, but as mentioned above, it can be so time consuming. My favorite way to distract myself would be Facebook.

If you weren’t an author, what would you be up to?

I’m retired so I’d go back to doing whatever I want, which would include plenty of reading, gardening, and maybe I’d even learn how to cook.

It’s the last day and the earth is facing oblivion – what book would you read?

Pride and Prejudice – again. At least I already know how it ends in case I don’t get to finish it.

A Lady's Guide to Etiquette and Murder 600px widePlease tell us what you are working on and your latest published work.  

I’m currently working on book three of The Countess of Harleigh Mysteries. Book one, A Lady’s Guide to Etiquette and Murder released in June, 2018.

The story takes place in London in 1899. Frances Wynn, Countess of Harleigh, is a widow dealing with a high society burglar, a marriage-mad sister, and a murder. When the London season turns deadly, she fears one of her sister’s suitors may be the killer. Frances must rally her wits and a circle of gossiping friends and enemies to unmask the culprit before she becomes his next victim.

 

Buy Link – Amazon US

Buy Link – Amazon UK

If you would like to know more about Dianne and her work, please check out her links below: 

Website:  https://difreeman.com/
Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/DianneFreemanAuthor/

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/Difreeman001

Instagram:  https://www.instagram.com/diannefreemanwrites/

Goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/17347322.Dianne_Freeman

 

 

 

The Lady Mourns

My 1888-advert-from-illustrated-london-newslatest heroine, Lucy Lawrence, is newly widowed and resisting some of the more stringent customs imposed upon her. Unsurprisingly, mourning rules and customs affected women more than men and an entire industry grew up around it. Many made their fortunes due to regulations and superstitions we would now  laugh at.  These specialist shops or warehouses popped up everywhere, and all because Queen Victoria (the ‘Widow of Windsor’) took to black on Prince Albert’s death and never took it off again. Continue reading “The Lady Mourns”

The O’Donovan Saga: Tales of 19th Century Ireland & America

One of the greatest joys for me since stepping into the publishing world, has been the opportunity to meet and befriend fellow authors, particularly those who write historical fiction. So I am delighted this evening to host Irish-American author, Patricia Hopper Patteson. Earlier this year, Patricia and I met for the first time, face-to-face, on one of her trips home to Dublin. I also had the opportunity to attend Patricia’s Irish book launch for Corrib Red. Continue reading “The O’Donovan Saga: Tales of 19th Century Ireland & America”

A Conversation with Lorna Peel

This evening in the Library, I am delighted to welcome, Lorna Peel­­­­­­, who has dropped in to say hello and to share some insights into her life as an author.

You are very welcome Lorna, please introduce yourself:

lorna-peelThank you for inviting me into the Library and interviewing me, Pam. I am an author of historical romance and romantic suspense novels set in the UK and Ireland. I was born in England and lived in North Wales until my family moved to Ireland to become farmers, which is a book in itself! I live in rural Ireland, where I write, research my family history, and grow fruit and vegetables. I also keep chickens and a Guinea Hen called Gertrude who now thinks she’s a chicken!

Did you read much as a child? Are you an avid reader now? Do you prefer books in your own genre or are you happy to explore others?

Yes, I read a lot as a child – and I mean a LOT! My favourite author was Enid Blyton. I devoured everything she wrote and I remember saving up all my pocket money so I could buy the books from The Famous Five series at W.H. Smiths. They were 50p at the time!

I don’t read quite as much now as I simply don’t have the time. When I do read, I like to take a break from the genres I write in, so it’s mostly historical fiction, especially Sharon Penman (I’m working my way through her Richard The Lionheart novels at the moment) and C.J. Sansom’s Matthew Shardlake series.

Are you self-published or traditionally published?

Both. I have four novels with indie publishers and my two most recent novels are self-published.

Which genre do you write in and why?

I write historical romance and romantic suspense novels. I love writing romance but I don’t write insta-love. I prefer to write about relationships which develop over time, so I send my heroes and heroines on a journey in search of their happy ever after. As well as that, I’ve always had an interest in history and genealogy and I’m lucky that I have very varied ancestors – I’m of Irish, Dutch, Welsh, German and Scottish descent – so I like to combine romance with history and/or genealogy in my novels with plenty of suspenseful twists and turns to keep everyone on their toes!

Who has been the biggest influence on your writing?

A teacher (inadvertently) and myself and my own stubbornness. I was never encouraged to write imaginative essays at school and one teacher even refused to read or mark any of their class’ imaginative essays. I wasn’t going to allow that teacher to discourage me from even trying to write, but it wasn’t until I left school that I began writing and I’ve been writing ever since.

Has your country of origin/culture influenced your writing?

The city of Dublin plays a large part in my family history so I’ve always wanted to write some novels set there. My paternal ancestors were from Dublin and I’ve done a lot of research on the family tree as well as research into the areas where they lived and also into what they did for a living. I’ve also lived in Dublin, so having all that work done and being able to visualise streets and buildings and know how long it takes to walk from A to B was a great help to me when I sat down to write A Scarlet Woman. I still had to undertake a great deal of research for the novel but the groundwork was already complete.

What part of the writing process do you find most difficult? How do you overcome it?

The difficult part is finding the time to actually sit down and write something, especially in Summer. Summer is so short in Ireland (if we get one at all!) that I’m outside in the vegetable garden as much as possible or cleaning out the henhouse, whether I’m in the humour for it or not! To keep on top of my writing, and so that I continue to produce new novels, I now edit during the Summer months and write during Winter. 

Do you have a favourite time of day to write?

I used to write very late at night as I’m a night owl. More recently, it’s been in the afternoon (when possible) and in the evening. I must be getting old!

What is the best thing about being an author? And the flipside – what is the worst?

The best thing is when someone you don’t know tells you they enjoyed reading your novel(s). That makes all the hard work worthwhile. The worst is promotion. It has to be done, but I’d rather be writing.

Is social media an essential chore or something you enjoy? Which forum do you prefer?

I do find social media an essential chore. I don’t like Facebook, it’s far too Big Brother-like IMO, but I need a Facebook Author Page. I much prefer Twitter as tweets are short and to the point (for now!) and, so far, Twitter doesn’t restrict who can see them.

I recently joined Instagram, but my favourite social media platform is Pinterest. I can spend hours there. I have boards for all my novels, one board with some great old photos of Dublin (which was an enormous help to me in writing A Scarlet Woman) and many more, including my favourite TV series, films, music etc. 

If you weren’t an author, what would you be up to?

Something involving historical research. I love research! I’m a research nerd!

It’s the last day and the earth is facing oblivion – what book would you read?

If the earth is facing imminent oblivion, I don’t think I would be reading! I would be saying goodbye to family and friends instead. But if I was stuck on a desert island, my books of choice would be Sharon Penman’s Welsh Princes Trilogy – Here Be Dragons, Falls The Shadow and The Reckoning. I was brought up in North Wales so I’ve either been to or know of the places mentioned in the novels.

Please tell us about your latest published work.

A Scarlet Woman by Lorna Peel eBook CoverMy latest novel is an historical romance called A Scarlet Woman and it is the first in The Fitzgeralds of Dublin Series. A Scarlet Woman is set in Dublin, Ireland in 1880 and tells the story of Will Fitzgerald, an idealistic young doctor and Isobel Stevens, a fallen woman.

Will left his father’s prosperous medical practice to live and practise medicine in the poorer Liberties area of Dublin because he was tired of treating rich hypochondriacs and he wanted to do some good elsewhere. His parents were appalled and his fiancée broke off their engagement and married a rich barrister instead. So, when the novel opens, Will is nursing a broken heart and is expecting to be a poor, lonely bachelor doctor for the rest of his life. But when Will reluctantly spends a night in a brothel on the eve of his best friend’s wedding, little does he know that the disgraced young woman he meets there will alter the course of his life.

Isobel Stevens is the daughter of a cruel and vindictive clergyman from Co. Galway who ruled his family with an iron fist. Isobel was well educated and her father hoped to secure a good marriage for her but she was seduced and deserted by a neighbour’s son, leaving her viewed by society as a fallen woman through no fault of her own. Isobel’s father threw her out, so she travelled to Dublin and fell into prostitution, doing what she must to survive. On the advice of a handsome young doctor, Isobel leaves the brothel and finds work as a parlourmaid in a house on Merrion Square. Isobel never expected to see Will again, but their paths cross and their lives become intertwined and they find themselves falling in love. But is Will and Isobel’s love strong enough to flout convention and challenge the expectations of Victorian society?

A Scarlet Woman: The Fitzgeralds of Dublin Book One is out now on Kindle, in paperback and on Kindle Unlimited.  Buy Link: Purchase on Amazon

If you would like to know  more about Lorna and her work please check out her links below:

http://lornapeel.com

http://plus.google.com/+LornaPeel

https://www.instagram.com/lornapeelauthor

http://www.facebook.com/LornaPeelAuthor

http://www.goodreads.com/LornaPeel

http://author.to/LornaPeel

A Conversation with Author Nancy Jardine

Today in the Library we have Nancy Jardine, who has dropped in to say hello and to share some insights into her life as an author.

Hello Nancy, you are very welcome. Please introduce yourself:

Hello! I’m Nancy Jardine. I live in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, a fabulous place for anyone who adores history as much as I do. My week vanishes in a blur of reading, writing, marketing, blogging, news and politics. I’m a fair weather gardener and like thousands of retired people across the UK, I officially (unpaid for government statistics) look after my grandchildren about two and a half days a week. Since they stay next door to me, the rest of the week can be ad hoc minding or just happy interruptions from the 3 and 5 year olds. Any time left during the week is for general living, breathing and sleeping. Many Saturdays, and some Sundays, from April to December I can be found at Craft Fair venues around Aberdeenshire. I sell paperback versions of my novels at these events and get bookings for doing local author talks to various types of groups. I’m a member of the Romantic Novelists Association, the Scottish Association of Writers and the Federation of Writers Scotland. Continue reading “A Conversation with Author Nancy Jardine”