Have Yourself a Merry Victorian Christmas
When I was a little girl, I remember watching Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol with my father. I think I watched every version with him – my personal favorite being Mickey’s Christmas Carol.
Each rendition of the story brought it’s own unique quality. Likewise, each seemed to hold true to two things: 1) the basic story line of the redemption of Scrooge and 2) that each took place in Victorian England. Back then, I didn’t understand the storyline much, but loved to listen to the beautiful English music, listen to the “foreign” accents, and watch the gorgeous Victorian scenery we’ve all come to know and love from Dickens’ novels.
Christmas in Victorian England
But what makes a Christmas Victorian? Many of the Christmas traditions we still observe today, even in the United States, were actually started or at least popularized in the Victorian era. In fact, if
it weren’t for Queen Victoria and her German husband, Prince Albert, we may never have known the Christmas that we do today – the one with Christmas trees, Christmas cards, and even Santa Claus.
At the beginning of the 19th century, Christmas was hardly celebrated in England, with many business not even considering it a holiday. In the mid-19th century, an illustration of Victoria and Albert showed them standing in front of a decorated Christmas tree. Soon British families embraced this new custom as well as many more that we see today. Through these royal-inspired traditions, Christmas, a day that was once insignificant in England, quickly become the largest annual celebration in the country.
But, aside from decorating the Christmas tree and giving Christmas cards, there are several other distinct traditions that truly make a Victorian Christmas:
Decorations: The Victorians loved to bring nature inside, especially during the Christmas season. They would spend hours creating lavish displays with greenery, holly berries, and pinecones. Christmas tree also were decorated with dried or sugared fruits, cinnamon sticks, and berries, along with candles and small toys hung from the tree.
Gift Bags: At Christmas, Victorians spent a great deal of time making fancy papers, boxes, and bags to hold small gifts that could be hung on the tree.
Wassail: The wassail punch, a mixture of fruit, cider, and spices, was served to carolers who went from door to door singing holiday songs and church hymns. As was the custom, carolers were invited in to drink from the wassail bowl, before heading back outside to the cold.
Christmas Pudding: This is the traditional dessert served during Victorian era Christmas. The “pudding” was often made from boiled fruit (although some included meat) and resembled a dome-line cake.
Christmas Crackers: Invented in Victorian England, these small, twisted paper ornaments were filled with small toys, trinkets, and candy. When snapped, they would burst open with a “popping” sound, revealing their treats.
Parlor Games: When families and friends gathered on Christmas, it was customary to retire to the parlor after dinner to play games. These were not the typical board or card games of today, but ones that involved creative interaction from everyone in the group, similar to charades or “20 questions”.
To this day, I am fascinated with Victorian England, but Victorian Christmas most of all. I still can’t watch any version of A Christmas Carol without getting sucked into the story and the Victorian beauty. One day, I hope to have a true Victorian Christmas in my own home, complete with parlor games and presents hung on the tree. Until then, I’ll be a making a nice hot cup of wassail. Cheers!