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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Recipes from the Victorian Sick Room

     nurse-with-patient

Anyone reading Regency or Victorian novels will be all too well aware of the obsession with remedies for invalids that were handed down arsenicfrom generation to generation. Some may have worked (most were at least nutritious) and we cannot really blame them for quacking themselves when terrible diseases lurked in their homes and haunted their nightmares. With medical hindsight we can, of course, laugh at some of their ‘cures’ but huge reliance was placed on traditional recipes. Many books were written on the subject and newspapers were full of advertisements for all sorts of medicines and remedies (often lethal ones at that). Continue reading “Recipes from the Victorian Sick Room”