Victorian Christmas Traditions
Before the coming in of Christianity, many pagan festivals were observed around the present Christmas time. After the church decided to celebrate the birth of Christ on December 25th, many traditions and customs have been incorporated in the celebrations. Victorian Christmas traditions started in 1837 during the reign of Queen Victoria. Many of the Christmas traditions that we observe today has origins that dates back to the Victorian age, though many changes have been incorporated in them. Some of the popular Christmas tradition that began during the Victorian Age are:
Christmas cracker is a Victorian Christmas tradition that is popular even today. Legends say that by seeing the cracks and sparks that came out of the hearth in his home, Tom Smith a confectioner from London got inspired to make the cracker. Tom designed a tube shaped object, tied it at both ends and filled it up with sweets and toys. To open the cracker, one had to pull it from both ends and break the tube with a popping sound. The cracker is generally placed on the dinner table where Christmas food is served.
Exchanging of Christmas card is another Victorian Christmas tradition that is very popular all over the world. The idea of penny post was first put up by Rowland Hill in Britain where a penny stamp would be paid for the postage of a letter or a Christmas card anywhere in Britain. This idea opened up the popularity of sending cards and thousands of cards were printed as the demand for cards surged. In 1843 Sir Henry Cole printed thousands of Christmas cards for the purpose of selling in his art shop at London, each card was priced one shilling. The popularity of sending cards increased further when 1870 with the introduction of a halfpenny postage rate.
The income generated by business and industries during the Victorian age enabled the middle class in England to take some time off from work and celebrate Christmas and Boxing Day. Thus, the concept of taking holidays and enjoying the time with family and friends through the exchange of gifts gradually gained popularity. On Boxing Day which is celebrated on 26th December, working people and servants collected money and gifts from the rich people. The name came form the practice that the poor people opened the boxes in which they had collected the money throughout the day.
Santa Claus/ Father Christmas
Contrary to popular belief, the story of the origin of Santa Claus and Father Christmas is entirely different. Father Christmas was part of an old English winter time festival. He would be dressed in green clothes symbolizing the return of spring. After that, the story of Saint Nicholas came to America through the Dutch settlers in the 17th century. Beginning 1870’s Sinter Klass came to be known as Santa Claus. Gradually many new practices were incorporated which included the practice of gift giving and distribution through the sleigh drawn up by reindeers.
When a picture of Queen Victoria along with her husband Prince Albert and their children, posing in front of a Christmas tree was published in The Illustrated London News in 1848, it became very famous. Many people associate the popularity of the Christmas tree, originally a German tradition to this picture. Gradually many changes came about in the decorations of the tree, but the tree is a popular Christmas symbol even today in many parts of the world.
Christmas Celebrations in Victorian Age
Christmas has always been a popular festival everywhere. Just as the Christmas holidays arrived; all work and other activities were universally ceased. Pine trees also known as Christmas trees were decorated with deep red velvet bows and attachments of cranberry and popcorn. Other decoration ornaments made out of glass, paper, wood and wax would also adorn the green tree giving out a spectacular sight. Mended stockings would be hung near the fireplace filled up with candies and boxes. The walls would be decorated with colorful wall hangings and long strands of hollies.
In the fireplace would be a pot of cider and roasted chestnuts while the entire room would be lit up with the dim light of candles. Families would gather around the fireplace with the bible and celebrate the birth of Christ. Victorian Christmas traditions were a time to enjoy the warmth and happiness with the family. Church going, doing charity and exchanging of gifts were the essential parts of this holiday season in the Victorian era.