The Victorian Christmas Legacy

At the beginning of the 19th Century, Christmas was not widely celebrated. But this was set to change. By the end of the 19th Century, the Victorians had firmly established Christmas as a time for celebration and had introduced many of our beloved Christmas traditions. The establishment of many Christmas traditions was aided by Queen Victoria and the Royal Household. Following her lead, households up and down the country began to welcome Christmas into their homes and their hearts. 

As we all know, many Christmas traditions originate from Germany, such as the quintessential Christmas tree. It is unsurprising that the German Christmas traditions found their way into the Royal Household since Queen Victoria’s husband, Albert, was of German ancestry, moving to England upon his marriage to the Queen. 

The Christmas Tree

It wouldn’t be Christmas without a beautifully decorated tree! The tradition was popularised in the 19th century, following the Royal Family’s lead and Albert’s German roots. However, this was not the first time a Royal adorned a tree with decorations. In the 1800’s, George the Third’s wife Charlotte, who was of German heritage, is believed to have sparked the trend of decorating Evergreen trees in England. 

Turkey and Trimmings

A turkey is the crowning glory of a traditional Christmas day dinner. In the 19th century, for many families, providing adequate food was a challenge at the best of times. But, it was a different story for the Royal household, whom enjoyed bountiful Christmas dinners consisting of multiple courses. Traditionally, items to feature in the Royal Family’s Christmas lunch were rich and extravagant including delicacies such as boar’s head, plum pudding, chipolatas and mince pies. Ordinary families worked hard to put food on the table, and many challenged themselves to provide poultry for Christmas dinner; often this was a goose. The traditional Christmas dinner has not altered much since the 19th century with many of us opting for turkey, mirroring the Royal Household’s preferred festive bird. 

Christmas Cards

Sending Christmas cards to loved ones is a firmly entrenched tradition in the United Kingdom. This festive ritual was first popularised in the late 1800’s, which is referred to as the ‘early-Victorian’ period. In 1843 Sir Henry Cole, a British civil servant, employed an artist to design a Christmas card. The original design featured a group seated at the dining table and a Christmas message. The card was quite expensive for many Victorians at one shilling per card. Although the price of this particular card meant it was unattainable for so many, the idea gained in popularity and children began to make their own Christmas cards; something still observed today. 

Christmas Crackers

Christmas would not be complete for many of us without the customary pulling of a Christmas cracker, adorning colourful paper crowns, reading aloud a terrible joke and playing with the small gifts contained within the cracker. Did you know Christmas crackers were another Victorian invention? It is all thanks to a confectioner named Tom Smith. In 1848, Smith was inspired by the Parisians and their wrapped bonbons. The original Christmas cracker design was simply a packet filled with sweets. The package would split when pulled and release the sweets within. Later in the Victorian era, the crackers evolved to include paper hats and small gifts. 

A Family-Centric Approach

Christmas is synonymous with spending time with family and loved ones. The Victorians were responsible for transforming Christmas into a family-centric event. They ensured the preparation of food, the consummation of the feast, the exchange of presents and the fun created through entertainment and games were at the very heart of Christmas. 

Anyone for Pudding? 

Christmas puddings are a traditional part of Christmas dinner and alcohol is often a key ingredient. Queen Victoria was partial to an alcoholic beverage at Christmas time, and it is believed her Christmas pudding was incomplete without a drop of alcohol. It is customary for Christmas puddings to be adorned with brandy custard and to be set alight. Similarly, Queen Victoria and her family would soak raisins in alcohol and then set them on fire; safety was clearly not a concern. The aim of the game was to get as many raisins as possible out of the flames. We would definitely not recommend partaking in this particular Victorian custom! 

Christmas Books

Christmas books have remained a popular, albeit seasonal, literary genre. Charles Dickens, one of the most successful authors of all time, accidentally paved the way for the Christmas literary genre with the publication of his esteemed novel, ‘A Christmas Carol’. Written in just 6 short weeks, ‘A Christmas Carol’ was published in late 1843. ‘A Christmas Carol’ embodies the true meaning of Christmas, reminding us of key morals and rules to live by, never losing sight of what truly matters particularly at Christmas time. Dickens very much aligned himself with the philosophy contained in the book, aligning his outlook with the “Carol philosophy”. 

Christmas Arts and Crafts

Christmas decorations were adored by the Victorians. They adorned their homes in beautiful decorations; many of which were handmade. The English Heritage website contains guides to making your own Victorian style Christmas decorations! Some of the Victorian decorations featured in the English Heritage Guide include pinprick cards, paper flowers, gilded walnuts and Christmas crackers. 

We hope you have enjoyed this trip down memory lane, exploring the origins of beloved Christmas traditions. Have a very merry Christmas!

Whilst enjoying the merriment of the festive season, remember to take time to unwind and relax. Our blog, ‘How To Switch Off and Enjoy the Festive Period’, provides tips and tricks for ensuring you enjoy some rest, relaxation and recuperation. 

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