Victorian Christmas Stroll

Victorian Christmas Stroll

General Information

It's hard to imagine now, but at the beginning of the 19th century Christmas was hardly celebrated. Many businesses did not even consider it a holiday. However by the end of the century it had become the biggest annual celebration and took on the form that we recognise today.There was a very big christmas dinner at the christmas eve!

Victorian christmas

The transformation happened quickly, and came from all sectors of society.

Victoria and Albert gathered around the Christmas tree with their children.

Many attribute the change to Queen Victoria, and it was her marriage to the German-born Prince Albert that introduced some of the most prominent aspects of Christmas. In 1848 the Illustrated London News published a drawing of the royal family celebrating around a decorated Christmas tree, a tradition that was reminiscent of Prince Albert's childhood in Germany. Soon every home in Britain had a tree bedecked with candles, sweets, fruit, homemade decorations and small gifts.

There's nothing like a Victorian Christmas, with it's party games,

delightful decorations, and fragrant food and drink. Travel back to that era and learn how these wonderful traditions evolved.

The Christmas Tree

The Christmas tree has been a German tradition since as early as the 17th century, but many ancient civilizations held evergreens to be a symbol of life during the long winter months and decorated trees as a symbol of eternal life. In 1841 Prince Albert, German husband of Queen Victoria, introduced the charming custom to the royal family. In 1850 a tinted etching of a decorated tree at Windsor Castle was published and theTannenbaum became a necessity for every fashionable Victorian home. It was a tradition quickly embraced by Victorian England. Live trees were set up for the Christmas season' 'decorated with lighted candles, draped with tinsel, ribbon, paper chains, cookies and candies.

Although the Victorian idea of Christmas was not commercial, having more to do with food, and the exchange of handmade gifts, New York soon saw the commercial advantages of a holiday full of the exchange of gifts. By the 1880's Macy's department store's windows were filled with wonderful dolls and toys from Germany, France, Austria, and Switzerland. Another window boasted scenes with steam driven moveable parts.

Homemade cornucopias of paper filled with fruit, nuts, candy, and popcorn were hung from branches of trees in America and England. Beautiful shaped cookies were hung for treats on Christmas day. Ofte

n the gifts were also wrapped and hung from branches.

With the growing popularity of Christmas trees manufacturers began producing ornaments around 1870. Also popular were molded wax figures of angels and children. Many ornaments were made of cotton-wool wrapped around an armature of metal or wood and trimmed with embossed paper faces, buttons, gold paper wings and "diamond dust", actually powdered glass.

The first Christmas card, designed by J.C. Horsley, was sent by Henry Cole, who decided to send his many aquantiences something different from his usual Christmas letter. They sold for one shilling each, and only one thousand copies were lithographed. It depicted the charities of clothing and feeding the poor, with the middle section depecting a well to do family toasting to Christmas and the year ahead. It proved to be a very popular idea.

The exchange of presents, of ancient origin, symbolized the good luck, prosperity, and happines

s wished for friends. The Victorians began planning their presents many months ahead. Most chershed were handmade, needlework, or something useful. People exchanged rememberances with family and friends. Children made their gifts as well.

Santa is a mixture of many different figures from many different cultures. The Dutch St. Nick, Englands Father Christmas, and the German Kris Kringle. In ancient times Norse and German people told stories of The Yule Elf who brought gifts during Solstice to those who left offerings of porriage. When Clemment Moore's poem "The Night Before Christmas" became enormously popular, the "Jolly old elf" w

as adopted as the ideal Santa. Years later Thomas Nast illustrated him as a round bellied whiskered figure in tight red leggings and coat. Coca-Cola's popular advertising changed the concept of Santa to a cheerful full bearded man with the now popular red suit, black boots and wide belt.Although Christ's Nativity has been celebrated since the 4th century, most of the English customs we are familiar with today are as recent as the mid-19th century. Many of the early ceremonies were rooted in pagan beliefs, and some

customs, like wassailing, still survive.

The Protestant Reformation condemned most of these pagan customs as superstitious and banned public celebrations of Christmas. The Puritans abolished all celebrations after the Civil War, also. Fervor for the holiday declined even into the Georgian Era. It wasn't until Prince Albert married Queen Victoria and brought many German customs with him that Christmas began to gain popularity again.

One of the first signs of Christmas was the arrival of the Christmas card in the post. John Calcott Horsley designed the first Christmas card in 1846 for Sir Henry Cole, Chairman of the Society of the Arts. Only 1000 cards were printed that first year and were expensive, but the pattern for the future was formed. Then in 1870, postage was reduced to one half penny per ounce and a cheaper color lithography was used for printing. Thus began the real spread of the Christmas card. By the early 1870s, the custom had

reached the United States. At first, designs were simple, but as technology advanced, new subjects evolved. By the 1860s, popular designs were Christmas feasts, church bells, snowbound mail-coaches and turkey and plum puddings.

Victorian Cart

Christmas decorations sometimes appeared well before the holiday, also, but many s

till held to the old superstition of bad luck to erect evergreens before

Christmas Eve. The most favored plant

s were all 'magical' because of the mid-winter berries they produced--mistletoe, holly and ivy. The

red berry of the holly was believed to protect one against witchcraft. The sprig had to be carried into the house by a male, as the berry is on the 'male' holly plant. One use for holly sprigs was to decorate the Christmas pudding. The 'female' ivy symbolized immortality. Mistletoe, because of its pagan origins, was not allowed in any church. Kissing under the mistletoe was a purely English custom, and only as many berries as were on the mistletoe, could there be kisses. For after every kiss, a berry had to be removed from the sprig.

The Christmas tree can truly be called a Victorian innovation. The custom of a lighted

tree began in Germany and German settlers brought the idea to America. But it wasn't until Prince Albert, of German descent, brought the Christmas tree to England in 1840 that it gained popularity there. By 1847, the trees at Windsor Castle were laden with presents as well as wax candles. The tradition spread as English citizens followed the Royal example. The trees and other decorations were removed on Twelfth Night (January 6). To do so before or after was considered bad luck.

Victorian Christmas Festival

Victorian Christmas Festival

Families began their Christmas Day by celebrating mass. (Christmas Eve services did not become popular until after the Second World War.) The peal of bells called everyone to church. At services, scriptural lessons were interspersed with carols. Most of the carols we sing today were written in the

nineteenth century, although old favorites such as 'Silent Night' and 'Hark the Herald Angels Sing' are much older.

Carols were also sung at home and families even walked door-to-door to entertain oth

ers. Also going from house-to-house were the wassailers. These were usually the poor of the parish, who sought donations of drink, food or money as they invited others to drink from their wooden bowl.

Christmas dinner was a grand affair. Goose, chicken or a joint of roast beef took center stage on the table. Turkey, while popular in America, wasn't customary fare until late in the 19th century in England.

Christmas pudding, made with beef, raisins and prunes, was mixed on Stir-up Sunday, the Sunday before Advent, in order for the mixture to mature. All present in the house took turns stir

ring the pudding with a wooden spoon (in honor of the Christ child's wooden crib). The stirring had to be done in a clockwise direction for luck. Mince pies were another traditional dish. They were sweeter, made wi

th mincemeat, fruit and spices, and had to be eaten for the twelve days of Christmas to ensure twelve months of luck in the coming year. Each one eaten had to be baked by a different person, however, so there was much sharing with friends.

After dinner, children pulled their crackers and everyone exchanged gifts. The evening usually ended with parlor games and carol singing.

Information Taken from:

A Victorian Christmas

The Victorians celebrated Christmas with characteristic enthusiasm and had deep respect for custom and tradition.

“Of the ‘high days of the Calendar’ Christmas was always the one which held the chief place in England where it was celebrated in a manner so different from what was customary in other countries as to excite the astonishment of foreigners.

As soon as the Christmas holidays had arrived work and care were universally thrown aside and, instead of devotional practices by which other countries commemorated the sacred occasion, England rang from one end to the other with mirth and joviality.

A Victorian Christmas

A Victorian Christmas

Christmas carols were trolled in every street, masquerades and plays took possession of h

ouses and churches indifferently. A Lord of Misrule whose reign lasted from All-Hallow Eve till the day after the Feast of Pentecost, was elected in every noble household to preside over the sports and fooleries of the inmates, while each member prepared himself either to enact some strange character or to devise some new stroke of mirth.

The towns on these occasions assumed a sylvan appearance; the houses were dressed with branches of ivy and holly; the churches were converted into leafy tabernacles and standards bedecked with evergreens were set up in the streets, while the young of both sexes danced around them.”

Seasonal Direction

===To deck your walls on Christmas Day === The Victorians were passionate in their decoration of the home, and were just as anxious for their churches to be suitably decorated as well - while flowers decorate the sanctuaries at Easter, the scarlet berries hang there at Christmas. ===Twine the ivy in your homes === Holly and ivy have long held their sway in cottage and in hall, even the poorest dwelling welcomed the festive season with decorations of these cheerful winter evergreens.

With the musical cry of “Holly, holly, O!” comes the hearty one also of “Winter evergreens”, telling all through the town the festival of Christmas is near. The holly cart was a pleasant sight in the

streets just before Christmas, it would come round specially for those people who could not collect their own from the countryside.

The Christmas tree is captivatingly beautiful to children’s eyes as it stands in its blazing brilliancy, gleaming with lights and laden with such thick-hanging clusters of rich and varied fruit. Prince Albert is credited with the introduction of the Christmas Tree in England. It quickly became the centre piece of all seasonal decoration.

“The birthplace of the Christmas-Tree is Egypt, and its origin dates from a period long antecedent to the Christian era. The palm-tree is known to put forth a shoot every month and a spray of this tree with twelve shoots on it was used in Egypt at the time of the winter solstice as a symbol of the year completed. The palm-tree spray of Egypt, on reaching Italy, became a branch of any other tree (the tip of the fir was found most suitable from its pyramidal or conical shape) and was decorated with burning tapers lit in honour of Saturn, whose saturnalia were celebrated from the 17th to the 21st of December, the period of the winter solstice.”

Christmas Music Makers ===Not all carol-singers were welcome ! === On the first night of the Christmas holidays the voices of carol singers floated in on the night air, and if they were lucky, welcomed indoors for a glass of punch and a mince pie.

“There is another aspect of the streets of London at Christmas, which requires notice, the

more especially as this year it is painfully prominent - the carol singers !

Who seem to look upon themselves as privileged for the sake of the old familiar chant which they musically or unmusically pour into our ears, and who, of all ages and of both sexes, swarm in every street in numbers of which an accurate estimate would convey a somewhat alarming idea of the poverty of London - troops of unmusical beggars have made their ap

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Country carol singers

pearance in the streets this year in numbers surpassing all precedent of experience.”

For a few weeks before Christmas the streets of 19th century London began to assume a ne

w aspect for London was a musical city, with many groups of music makers playing on the busy streets.

Home for Christmas

Christmas Eve in Victorian times was a day for arrivals. Those who were going to spend Christmas with friends or relatives travelled by train or coach. The coach would be crowded both inside and out, with passengers who were on their way to the homes of relations or friends to eat the Christmas Dinner. Others were returning home for the holidays, and promising themselves a world of enjoyment.

It was a time for families to be reunited and to enjoy themselves to the full, besides the yule log’s Christmas glow.

“Through the deep, still night speed on the rapid trains - from the factories of Manchester and the looms of Bradford, from the farmyards of Norfolk and Essex, from the milk-abounding pastures of Devonshire; right on the mighty Babel of the modern world, where they disgorge their wonderful burden. No long labouring and toiling through snow-drifts, no spurring of jaded steeds, no lumbering heavily in ponderous vehicles over half-formed roads; but swiftly, certainly, unhestatingly, borne onward some thirty or forty miles an hour by that last great feudatory of man - the giant steam. And so men reach their homes at Christmas time, One Thousand Eight Hundred and Fifty Nine.”




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