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.
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
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.
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.
Information Taken from: http://www.thecompletevictorian.com/Christmas.html
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.
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.”
===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 appearance 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.”