Victorian Christmas

How We Got Here

Christmas as we know it has its roots in Victorian times. At the beginning of the 19th century Christmas was barely acknowledged. It was not recognized as a holiday by businesses and individuals alike. By the end of the century it rose to being the largest annual celebration  and began to resemble the Christmas of the present.

The evolution of the holiday is largely attributed to Queen Elizabeth. She married the German-born Prince Albert  and subsequently introduced several prominent aspects of Christmas. In 1848 the Illustrated London News published a drawing of the royal family celebrating around a decorated Christmas tree as Prince Albert would have done in his youth. It wasn’t long before most homes would boast a tree decorated with candies, fruit, homemade ornanments and small gifts.

In 1843, Sir Henry Cole, a British civil servant and inventor, commissioned an artist to design a card for the holiday. The illustration featured a group of people around a dinner table with a brief Christmas message. The initial cards were expensive for the average person and did not immediately catch on. However the idea was solid and children were encouraged to make their own Christmas cards. Being in the industrial age, printing technology became more advanced, reducing the production cost and reducing the price to the consumer. By the 1880s Christmas had become so popular that 11.5 million cards were produced in 1880 alone.

Home decorations became more elaborate. Uniformity, order and elegance were encouraged. There were instructions on how to make your own ornaments and decorations for those living outside of the city. In 1881, Casell’s Family Magazine offered the following advice to the lady of the house: “To bring about a general feeling of enjoyment, much depends on the surroundings; it is worth while to bestow some little trouble on the decoration of the rooms”.

Gift giving had traditionally been done in the New Year but was eventually moved to Christmas. In the beginning gifts were small; fruit, nuts, sweets and handmade items. They were usually hung on the tree. As gift giving became more prevalent gifts became larger and were moved under the tree.

Yule Tide Delights

During the Victorian period the traditional Christmas dinner began to take shape. Early on, mince pies were made with meat. Gradually the composition of this particularly festive dish changed. Recipes without meat gained popularity and became the mince pies we know today.

The turkey also had its origins in this time frame. Prior to this the Christmas dinner featured goose or beef. The turkey became the favorite of the wealthy. It was soon adopted by the middle classes because it was the perfect size for a family gathering. By the beginning of the 20th century the turkey had become the dominant dish for the Christmas feast.

Christmas carols had been around to some degree for quite awhile. Victorians took this to another level by reviving and popularizing the singing of carols in many different venues. They felt that carols were a delightful form of entertainment and well worth cultivating. Traditional lyrics were put to new melodies and the first significant collection of carols was published in 1833.

Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol during this period. The book is credited with helping to bring Christmas traditions to the fore and spreading these traditions throughout the masses. The book’s themes of family, charity, goodwill, peace and happiness are truly universal and timeless.

Written by Edward Connolly, Broker Associate of Coastline Realty

Edward Connolly, Broker Sales Associate