The Victorian Era (1837 to 1901) saw a transformation in the way that Christmas celebrated. The Victorians celebrated with a view of Christmas nostalgia. In America it was the embracement of old customs (from the culture of its immigrants) and the development of the perfect holiday.
In this era three major books, inspired the view of Christmas that continues today. Washington Irving’s, The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon in 1819, Clement Clarke Moore’s, The Night Before Christmas in 1822 and in 1843 Charles Dickens’, A Christmas Carol. These three books combined, developed the image of Christmas for the Victorians and the way Christmas developed during the era and through to the 20th Century.
What the Victorians Gave Christmas
The Christmas tree was popularised in Europe and North America. This was helped in the UK by the portrayal of the Royal family, in the Illustrated London News of December 1848. Christmas cards were introduced in 1843. Christmas crackers were invented in 1847 and by 1860’s they became more like the crackers we know today. Father Christmas, the figure of modern Christmas celebrations possibly dates from Moore’s book of 1822. At least the modern day image of Father Christmas.
Christmas Day in Victorian Times
The celebration dates of Christmas were fixed. Before the Victorians, Christmas was very much around old pagan celebrations, periods of the Christian calendar, like Christmastide. But under the Victorians, Christmas Day and Boxing Day became fixed days of celebrations (In England and Wales. In Scotland the celebrations took place at Hogmanay.). It was helped by the wealth generated by the new factories and industries that allowed the middle classes to take time off.
Gifts at the start of the Victorian era, tended to be handmade, but by the end of the era, toys in particular became mass produced in the factories. This made toys far more affordable. As a result the Christmas Stocking became more popular in the 1870’s. Although with the poor it still tended to be an orange, apple and some nuts.
At the start of the Victorian era the most common Christmas fayre was roast beef in the North and in London and the South, goose. The poorest often had to make do with rabbit. The Royal family would still have enjoyed swan. But by the end of the era turkeys became popular. Most were farmed in Norfolk and walked to London. Many were fitted with leather footwear for the walk and fattened in London on their arrival. The cost of the turkey had reduced due to the mass production of farmed turkeys.
Carol singing continued to be popular in the Victorian era. The era introduced many new carols, that are some of the most popular today.
1843 – O Come all ye Faithful
1848 – Once in Royal David’s City
1851 – See Amid the Winters Snow
1868 – O Little Town of Bethlehem
1883 – Away in a Manger