Did you know that the Victorians have highly influenced the way we celebrate Christmas in our modern society? The Victorian era started in 1837 and alongside the newly generated wealth and industrial revolution sparked the Christmas celebrations that we see today. Previous to this nobody had heard of Santa Claus, Christmas crackers were not pulled and no cards were sent to friends and family. The lives of the British were changing at a rapid pace and alongside this came a more commercialised Christmas.
The newly created wealth in Victorian Britain allowed the middle class families to take time off of their busy work routines to celebrate Christmas over 2 days. Boxing Day, the day after Christmas derives its name from the day workers and servants would open their boxes which contained collected gifts and even money from richer locals and business owners.
In 1843 Charles Dickens wrote and published “Christmas Carol” which features the character Ebenezer Scrooge, who is depicted as a cold hearted miser who despises Christmas. This book actually encouraged many wealthy Victorians to give gifts and even money to the poor. The idea of gift giving spread throughout all classes of the Victorians and Christmas became a time of giving gifts to loved ones.
For many Children of the Victorian era, you were lucky to get toys and the kind of gifts we readily see today. In fact many poorer children of the time received oranges, apples and nuts in their Christmas stockings. At the time children’s toys were handmade and because of this were very expensive for the average parents to buy. With the industrial revolution came mass production in factories which made todays, dolls, games and books more affordable to many families. This is when most children started receiving some great presents no matter what class you were from!
The Victorians had introduced a postal infrastructure like no other, which allowed people to send mail via the “Penny Post”. For only a penny you could send a letter or card to anywhere in Britain. As the railways gathered momentum a halfpenny postage stamp was made available which made the sending of Christmas cards even more affordable to all Victorians. A local business owner Sir Henry Cole printed one thousand Christmas cards in his art shop in 1843, selling them at one shilling each and causing huge demand for this product every year from then on.
Santa Claus / Father Christmas
Through the Victorian times Santa Claus also known as Father Christmas became associated with bringing presents and gifts to the children of the world. He would leave presents for the Victorian children throughout the world, all in one night! Although both names are used to depict the same person, they do in fact come from two different stories.
Father Christmas was originally known from an old English midwinter festival, he would dress in green to reflect the return of spring. The Santa Claus name originated from Dutch Settlers in America in the 17th Century who told stories of “Sinter Klaas” who was known as “St Nicholas” in America and “Santa Claus” in Victorian Britain. He became the modern day icon complete with reindeers and sleigh.
Queen Victoria’s Husband Prince Albert was originally from Germany, where the traditional tree was more popular in homes around the country. In 1840 he brought one back with him and placed it in Windsor Castle. This helped make the Christmas tree popular throughout Britain and the many other countries that follow our Christmas traditions.
These were invented by a London Sweet maker in 1846, named Tom Smith. He originally decided to wrap his sweets in a twisted and colourful fancy paper in an effort to make the more attractive to his customers. He kept working on his idea in an effort to sell as many as possible, working out that he sold many more when he added love notes and small gifts to the twisted packaging. Something we see in all Christmas Crackers today, although more commonly jokes rather than love notes.
Originally in England the traditional Christmas meal was roast beef in the North and Goose in the South. Many of the poorest families had Rabbit. Turkey and Chicken were too expensive at the time for your average family, with only the rich being able to enjoy it. Turkeys were brought over to Britain from the Americas hundreds of years previous to the Victorian Era. Towards the end of the century Turkey became more affordable and many families in a better economy were able to buy it, which led to it becoming the most popular Christmas meal.
The Victorians were well known for their Carol singing and musicians who would visit houses playing and singing the latest Carols, they were known as “The Waits” There were many popular Carols which are still common today and some no so common including Silent Night, O Come all ye Faithful, Jacob’s Ladder, Once in Royal David’s City, The Cherry Tree Carol, See Amid the Winters Snow ,The First Noël, O Little Town of Bethlehem, Away in a Manger, The Holly and the Ivy, The Wassail Song, The Praise of Christmas and many more!