Sunday 14 December 2008

Have A Victorian Christmas!

Ever wondered where we get our Christmas traditions from? Well, we have those glorious Victorians to thank for some of our most beloved festive past times! Before Victoria was crowned Queen in 1837 nobody in Britain had heard of Santa Claus or Christmas crackers. No Christmas cards were sent and most folk did not have time off work.
Here are a few noteworthy Yuletide customs that date from the Victorian era:

The Holidays: The wealth generated by the new factories and industries of the Victorian age allowed Middle Class families to take time off work and celebrate over two days; Christmas Day and Boxing Day. December 26th was given the nickname 'Boxing Day' because on the 26th servants and workers would open the boxes in which they had collected gifts of money and food from the rich.

The Gifts: At the start of Queen Victoria's reign, children's toys tended to be handmade and therefore costly, which meant they were unaffordable for most people. With factories, however, came mass production, which brought with it games, dolls, books and clockwork toys at more affordable prices. Even these more affordable gifts were only affordable by the Middle Class. Poor children made do with only a stocking in which only an apple, orange and a few nuts could be found (something that my Nan reminds me about yearly).

Santa: The stories of St. Nicholas (Sinter Klaas in Holland) came via Dutch settlers to America in the 17th century. From the 1870s Sinter Klaas became known in Britain as Santa Claus and with him came his story of delivering gifts using reindeer and a sleigh.

Christmas Cards: The 'Penny Post' was first introduced in Britain in 1840 by Rowland Hill. In 1843, Sir Henry Cole (who had been part of introducing the Penny Post and is often credited with designing the worlds first postage stamp; the Penny Black) printed a thousand cards for sale in his art shop in London at 1 shilling each. These became the first lot of Christmas cards sent in Britain. The popularity of sending cards was helped in 1870 when a half penny postage was introduced as a result of the efficient railways.

The Tree: Queen Victoria's husband, Prince Albert, made the Christmas tree a hit in Britain. Christmas trees were popular in Prince Albert's native country Germany, and so Albert introduced what is arguably the epitome of Christmas; the decorated Christmas tree (pictured above), in the 1840s.

The Cracker: An idea from sweetmake Tom Smith in 1846-Tom Smith had the idea to wrap his sweets in fancy coloured paper. This idea later developed further when Tom Smith's twisted paper surprise had other things added to it: a motto, a paper hat, a small toy and a bang!

Thank goodness for the Victorians-we may not have such a lovely Christmas if it hadn't have been for them!

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