The Victorians were hugely influential with how we celebrate Christmas today. A lot of the traditions that we take for granted were founded, adopted, or made fashionable during the Victorian period. We love looking back at the history of Christmas and its traditions. For this article, we are focusing on Christmas traditions in England.
Queen Victoria herself was a fan of Christmas and her husband Prince Albert brought a lot of his own traditions over from Germany.
When Queen Victoria began her reign in 1837 Christmas wasn’t really celebrated that much, certainly not to the extent it is today. However, with the industrial revolution well underway with new-found wealth, technology, and growth in the middle classes, we started to see more the Christmas we might recognise today.
In 1843 Charles Dickens published ‘A Christmas Carol’, which made it fashionable to give to the poor at Christmastime. The same year, in 1834 the first Christmas card was introduced by Sir Henry Cole. Similarly, in the 1840s the Christmas cracker was invented by sweetshop owner Tom Smith.
The Christmas tree that we all know and adore was introduced to Britain by Prince Albert himself. In 1848 the Illustrated London News published a drawing of the royal family celebrating around a tree decorated with ornaments. And thus, the popularity of a decorated Christmas tree grew with ornaments made of reflective material to sparkle in the candlelight of the time.
With Queen Victoria and Prince Albert having such a large family themselves, with 9 children, the culture of the time starts to emphasis the importance of family. And Christmas became a time of bringing family together. Those that had left the countryside to work in the new urban cities were able to use the newly built railways to travel home easily to visit family at Christmas.
Many of our favourite Christmas carols were written in the Victorian time. ‘O Come all ye Faithful’ was written in 1843, Once in Royal David’s City was written in 1848, O Little Town of Bethlehem is from 1868, and Away in the Manger is from 1883.
We have put together a list of 9 ways to help you celebrate Victorian Christmas traditions.
How to celebrate Victorian Christmas
Decorate the Tree
It is now the centrepiece of homes all over the world at Christmas, but this tradition was made super fashionable by Queen Victoria. Decorate yours with natural Christmas decorations as likely picked from that time.
Send Christmas Cards
There is something incredibly thoughtful about taking the time to write and send a Christmas card. Make like the Victorians and make a list of family, friends, and acquaintances to send a Christmas card.
Sing Christmas Carols
As so many of our cherished carols are from the Victorian era celebrate Christmas with the custom of singing carols with at home, church, or visiting your neighbours door-to-door spreading Christmas cheer.
Prepare an Epic Feast
The Christmas dinner was a tradition that was already centuries old with those in the north of England choosing roast beef, and those in the south opting for roast goose. It was during the Victorian times that the popularity of roast turkey grew with the influence coming over from America.
Let’s not forget the popularity of plum pudding, mince pies, sugarplums, Christmas cake and mulled wine.
Bring out the holly and mistletoe
When Charles Dickens wrote about Christmas in A Christmas Carol he spoke of holly and mistletoe. Decorate you home with these evergreens like the Victorians did by wrapping it around bannisters, along with sideboards and mantlepieces. Mistletoe used to be hung in balls.
Read or watch A Christmas Carol
Get in the mood for Christmas Victorian-style by reading the classic Charles Dickens story ‘A Christmas Carol’. Or, if you find Dickens, a tad wordy, watch ones of the many film adaptations. There have been many films, television, and theatre adaptations of A Christmas Carol.
The giving of gifts used to be a New Year’s tradition but it was during the Victorian times that this moved to Christmas Day. To begin with, gifts were given to children or servants. Gifts would include something edible like fruit, nuts and sweets. Sometimes handmade toys, books, and games were given.
Giving to the poor and needy became a Christmas tradition during this time as it became a time of goodwill and charity. This was a time redistribute the wealth to those in need. Consider a fundraising event or make a donation to your local charity.
Hold a Victorian Parlour Games Party
Parlour games were popular amongst the Victorians. These games might include blind man’s buff, musical statues, or charades. Sometimes children might before mini-plays. And nearly always there was a piano for all to sing around.