MAGGI ANDERSEN'S BLOG Bestselling Author of Historical Romance

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A Victorian Christmas by Maggi Andersen

An English Christmas during the 1900s

By Maggi Andersen

The first known Christmas Tree was erected at Queen's Lodge, Windsor, by Queen Charlotte, the German born wife of George III, for a party she held on Christmas Day, 1800, for the children of the leading families in Windsor. Her biographer Dr John Watkins describes the scene:

In the middle of the room stood an immense tub with a yew tree placed in it, from the branches of which hung bunches of sweetmeats, almonds, and raisins in papers, fruits and toys, most tastefully arranged, and the whole illuminated by small wax candles. After the company had walked around and admired the tree, each child obtained a portion of the sweets which it bore together with a toy and then all returned home, quite delighted.
Christmas trees were an established Royal institution in Britain long before the custom spread to the general populace. Queen Adelaide always had one and the young Princess Victoria recorded her delight at the Christmas tree at Kensington Palace in 1832. 

Prince Albert, who is often wrongly credited with having brought the Christmas tree to Britain, certainly did most to encourage its general adoption, The Christmas Tree at Windsor Castle was featured in The Illustrated London News of 1848 and this inspired the imitation. Albert also presented large numbers of trees to schools and Army barracks at Christmas.
(From The Royal Windsor Website)

Santa Claus's first appearance in British society was not until the reign of Queen Victoria  when the wealthy middle class, generated by the industrial revolution, changed the face of Christmas forever.

Father Christmas was originally part of an old English midwinter festival, normally dressed in green, a sign of the returning spring. The stories of St. Nicholas (Sinter Klaas in Holland) came via Dutch settlers to America in the 17th Century. From the 1870s, Sinter Klass became known in Britain as Santa Claus with his bag full of gifts and toys distributed by reindeer and sleigh.

Inspired by Charles Dickens' Christmas Carol published in 1843, the wealthy gave money and gifts to the poor at Christmas. Christmas Day and Boxing Day became holidays. Boxing Day was so named because the poor opened the boxes containing gifts and money from their wealthy benefactors. The railways allowed those now living and working in the cities to return to the country for Christmas.

With factories came mass production, which produced less expensive games, dolls, books and clockwork toys than the handmade variety. Children of poorer families might have found an apple, orange and a few nuts in their Christmas stocking, which became popular from around 1870.

A famous Christmas dinner scene appears in Dickens' A Christmas Carol where Scrooge sends Bob Cratchitt a large turkey. Turkeys originated from America and had been in Britain for hundreds of years before the Victorian era. The turkey appeared on Christmas tables in England in the 16th century, and popular history tells of King Henry VIII being first English monarch to have turkey for Christmas. The 16th century farmer Thomas Tusser noted that by 1573 turkeys were commonly served at English Christmas dinners. The tradition of turkey at Christmas rapidly spread throughout England in the 17th century, and it also became common to serve goose which remained the predominant roast until the Victorian era. (it was quite common for Goose "Clubs" to be set up, allowing working-class families to save up over the year towards a goose before this). 

The pudding course of a British Christmas dinner may often be Christmas pudding, which dates from medieval England.
Trifle, mince pies, Christmas cake were also popular, but along with chicken, they were too expensive at the beginning of Queen Victoria’s reign. Roast beef was traditional fare in northern England, and in the south, goose was eaten. Queen Victoria and family in 1840 enjoyed both beef and a royal roast swan or two. 
 By the end of the century, most people feasted on turkey for their Christmas dinner.

 The “Penny Post” was first introduced in Britain in 1840 by Rowland Hill. The idea was simple, a penny stamp paid for the postage of a letter or card to anywhere in Britain. This simple idea paved the way for the sending of the first Christmas cards. Sir Henry Cole tested the water in 1843 by printing a thousand cards for sale in his art shop in London at one shilling each.

Tom Smith, a London sweet maker in 1846 invented crackers. The original idea was to wrap his sweets in a twist of fancy colored paper, but this developed and sold much better when he added love notes (mottos), paper hats, small toys and made them go BANG!

Carol Singers and Musicians “The Waits” visited houses singing and playing the new popular carols:
1843 - O Come all ye Faithful
1848 - Once in Royal David’s City
1851 - Amid the Winter’s Snow
1868 - O Little Town of Bethlehem
1883 - Away in a Manger 

I have a Regency Christmas short story on offer. After Lady Catherine Bellingham appeared in What a Rake Wants, I was inspired to give her own story. This is one special Christmas Night. A Forbidden Love affair. 
Lady Catherine's Scandalous Christmas

(Free on Smashwords and Goodreads) 

Widow Lady Catherine Bellingham thought she was content with her life. Then one Christmas night, Gerard, Earl of Berwick, showed her how wrong she was.

For those who celebrate it, Merry Christmas and for the rest Happy Holidays and a safe and prosperous New Year.

Best Wishes,


Images: Wikipedia

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