Thursday, October 17, 2019

I- How Victorians Celebrate Christmas (1837-1910)

Way beyond the Tudor, Gregorian, and Stuart Christmas traditions, the Victorians (1837-1901) have everyone in spades. No other period has contributed to the celebration of Christmas more than the Victorians. (Actually, even though Queen Victoria was still on the throne from 1895-1901, history sees the Edwardian era being 1895-1910. )

During the 'Edwardian period', things were a bit more liberal, not as haughty. It was truly a period of change, although subtle. However,  for purposes of my musings, I will address the 2 periods as one.

One of the more well known editorials of the time was in 1897 when Francis P. Church, Editor of the New York Sun, answered a letter from an eight year old named Virginia O'Hanlon asking, "Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, ‘If you see it in THE SUN it’s so.’ Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?"

His response lives on today: "Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see.[ ] Yes, Virginia there is a Santa Claus."

Moving on. If you have ever been to the Biltmore House in Ashville, NC at Christmas then you have experienced a true Victorian Christmas. For the affluent, this was how they decorated. The Victorians took their Christmas holidays very seriously.

Prior to this era no one had heard of Santa Claus (per se) or Christmas Crackers. Christmas cards became popular during this era. The modernity, wealth, and technologies brought about by the industrial revolution changed Christmas forever.

Workers across Britain, took 2 days off to celebrate Christmas. The tradition of Boxing Day on December 26th, continued. More efficient transportation enabled people from the country to travel to town to visit relatives for the holidays and vice a versa. 

It was during this time that turkey became a traditional Christmas dish. Christmas trees were introduced for the first time. Thanks to new manufacturing, gifts expanded from being all homemade to including those mass produced. 

The industrial revolution impacted this greatly as the introduction of wealth and technologies brought about a change. Famous novels including Charles Dickens critically acclaimed ‘A Christmas Carol’ surfaced and pressure was put on the rich to distribute wealth and lifestyle happiness.

And, the Christmas Cracker was introduced during this time. The cracker is a festive table decoration placed at each guests place. There is a snap sound when one pulls on the end to open it. Usually, inside there is a small gift or piece of candy. 

The cracker was developed by a London candy maker in 1846. Tom Smith wanted more to wrap his candy in than just brightly colored paper. So he included a small toy - such as a paper hat, a small toy, or trinket.    

Whether it was the Christmas cards or the introduction of the Christmas tree, the Victorians left their mark on the celebration of Christmas.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Georgian Era Christmas

The Stuart Period was followed by the Georgian Period (1714 - 1830). Thanks to King Charles II, the celebration of Christmas was restored. The Georgians took the holiday seriously and celebrated it with parties, balls, and  family dinners. 

Keeping to traditions, the holiday dinner menu included roasted goose and/or turkey, and of course Plum Pudding and Wassail.

A Traditional Plum Pudding
1 lb of eggs
1 ½ lb of shredded suet  (the hard white fat on the kidneys and loins of cattle, sheep, and other animals, used to make foods including puddings, pastry, and mincemeat)
1 lb raisins
1 lb dried plums
1lb mixed peel
1 lb of currants
1 lb sultanas (a small, light brown, seedless raisin used in foods such as puddings and cakes)
1 lb flour
1 lb sugar
1 lb breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon mixed spice
½ grated nutmeg
½ pint of milk
½ teaspoon of salt
the juice of a lemon
a large glass of brandy
Let stand for 12 hours
Boil for 8 hours and boil again on Christmas Day for 2 hours

Both the affluent and the commoners decorated their homes. Rich and poor used traditional holly, ivy, and mistletoe throughout their homes. But, like with the traditions of the Tudors, it was bad luck to decorate until Christmas Eve. The Christmas Bough, that dated back centuries was very popular. The Georgians built on the traditions. In addition to 'boughs' they had 'Christmas Balls'. They added candles, fruit, rosemary, and other  things to the basic greenery. Also, the Yule log tradition continued.

Queen Charlotte, the wife of King George III, introduced the Christmas Tree, a tradition she grew up with as a child in Germany. However, the tradition did not take. 

The Georgian Christmas Season lasted almost a month. On December 6, St. Nicholas' Day, and the first day of the holiday season, gifts were exchanged among friends and family. Then on St. Stephen's Day, December 26, the more affluent gave to charity and those with servants and staff presented them 'Christmas Boxes', ergo the designation of 'Boxing Day.'

Then on the last night, January 6,  they celebrated the '12th Night'. In addition to the ever present '12th Night Cake', there was much eating, drinking, games, and dancing.

Major social and cultural changes occurred during this period. Thanks to the Industrial Revolution, there were new norms for the work force. Life had changed, the rural life in, which generations had grown up  experiencing, was ebbing. Employers expected the workers to continue their jobs, even through the traditional 'Holiday Season.'  For the working class, this was the beginning of the shortened Christmas Celebration, we have today.