Before the early nineteenth century, Christmas was not celebrated in the way it is today. It was more sombre, and gift giving took place at each New Year instead. By the end of the century, Christmas had become the biggest annual celebration the country had ever seen. Victorian improvements in industry and infrastructure helped to make Christmas an occasion that everyone could enjoy.
Sir Henry Cole was the first person to use a Christmas card, at least in the form we would recognise today. The artist J.C. Horsley was commissioned to design a festive scene, and 1000 were printed. Sir Henry used most himself and sold the unused ones. As the century drew on, improvements in printing made Christmas cards affordable for all. Many thousands of intricate designs were available, and the improvements in railways meant they could easily be sent far afield.
The middle class rose to prominence in the Victorian era, and new customs and traditions were born. With disposable income and a desire to ‘fit in’, the Victorian middle class loved nothing more than novelty. This led to a boom in mass produced toys and decorations. Previously, many of these would have been expensive and available only to the wealthy. The Christmas cracker is one of the most enduring festive novelties. During a trip to Paris in the 1840s, sweetshop owner Tom Smith was inspired by bon bons, candy wrapped in paper, to wrap small gifts in paper instead. Over the next 20 years, Smith perfected the ‘bang’ sound, and the Christmas cracker was born. Inside, a joke or quote was found, alongside trinkets such as whistles, tiny dolls, or pins. You can even make your own! A great craft to do with the kids this Christmas; kits can be bought here View All Crackers | littlecraftybugs - Make Your Own Crackers (We are not affiliated with this company)
The Christmas Tree
Family life was incredibly important to the Victorians, who idolised Queen Victoria’s relationship with her husband and nine children. Christmas was celebrated at home, and the advent of affordable, reliably rail travel enabled people who had moved to the new towns to seek work to return home. The Christmas tree is the most recognisable emblem of Christmas, and this was popularised by Prince Albert. The prince was German, and the Christmas tree was not known in Britain until 1848, when the Illustrated London News published a drawing (below left) of the royal family celebrating around a decorated tree. Adorned with candles and baubles, the Christmas tree quickly caught on. Decorations could be mass produced, and a huge range of affordable designs were available. The first advertisements for tree decorations appeared in 1853. It was common to not only buy special ornaments, but also to use candles and homemade treats to decorate the tree. Decorating the Christmas tree was highly anticipated by all the family and was something they could enjoy together. The two postcards below date from the 1860s-1880s, and show how elaborate trees could. Children can be seen decorating the trees, showing how even the youngest family members were involved in Christmas traditions.
On Christmas Eve, many children will hang a Christmas stocking. In the morning, they are filled with gifts from Santa. At one point, Santa may well have been real- Saint Nicholas is said to have left gifts and coins in the stockings of impoverished children which had been left outside to dry.
Stir up Sunday
A slightly less well-known tradition, but beloved nonetheless, is Stir up Sunday. Always on the last Sunday before Advent, the day sees cooks ‘stirring up’ their Christmas pudding. Surprisingly, ‘stir-up’ isn’t really a cooking term- it’s from the beginning of the collect for the day in the Book of Common Prayer, beginning with the words ‘Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen’. It served as a timely reminder to make the Christmas pudding, and so Stir-up Sunday was made. Each family member would take a turn stirring the ingredients, bringing them good luck for the year ahead. The image is from 1881, and shows a family stirring the mix from east to west for luck. The day marked the first task of the Christmas season, and is a sign that Christmas is nearing.
If you didn’t get round to making your Christmas Pudding (Me..!) how about getting Christmassy in the kitchen with this Mince Pie recipe? Find out a bit more about the history of the mince pie here; they haven’t always been the sweet treat we recoginise today. The strange and twisted history of mince pies - BBC Future
With all this cooking, why not treat yourself to our festive handmade aprons, oven gloves, or tableware to really get that Christmas feeling? Below is our favourite winter print, Cherry Thief. - https://theapronsupplycompany.co.uk/cherry-thief-100-cotton-bib-apron/
Cherry Thief Apron- https://theapronsupplycompany.co.uk/cherry-thief-...