Every year millions of households celebrate the same Christmas traditions. From carol singing and sending cards to tree decorating and sharing gifts, much of today's modern Christmas culture stems from the Victorian era.
As the festive season fast approaches, we’ve taken a step back in time to delve into the history behind these beloved traditions as well as how you can achieve the Victorian Christmas trend in your own home.
What Was Christmas Like During the Victorian Era?
At the beginning of the 19th century, Christmas was hardly celebrated in England. Medieval traditions were under scrutiny by Puritans and the Industrial Revolution meant workers had little time to celebrate meaning many businesses didn’t consider it to be a holiday.
Over time Christmas traditions came trickling back in. In 1843, Charles Dickens published the now-classic novel A Christmas Carol which rekindled the joy of Christmas in British and American households. Shortly after, Prince Albert brought the German custom of tree decorating to England, carol singing started to thrive, the first Christmas card was published by Henry Cole inspiring many children - including Victoria’s - to make their own, and confectioner Tom Smith invented a bold new way to sell sweets when he came up with the Christmas cracker. By the end of the century, Christmas Day had become the biggest annual celebration that we still enjoy today.
Victorian Tree Decorations
Although Victoria and Albert were not the first royals to put up what we call a Christmas Tree, the tradition was popularised by Prince Albert. Inspired by his German heritage, trees in the royal household were adorned with glowing candles and trinkets with the interiors filled with medieval evergreen decorations such as garlands and wreaths.
In 1848 an illustration of Victoria and Albert beside a beautifully decorated tree with their children was published in the Illustrated London News rapidly inspiring the nation to decorate their own Christmas trees with candles, sweets, fruit, handmade decorations, and small gifts.
The Traditional Turkey Dinner and Christmas Pudding with a Twist
With traditions taken from the Tudor and Georgian periods, Victoria and Albert’s Christmas dinner - shared with their family - involved several courses such as mince pies, soups, the turkey and chipolatas alongside rich plum puddings, a selection of cold meats, roast beef or even a boar’s head.
Most Victorian families had roast goose for their Christmas dinner whilst wealthier families served beef and venison with chestnut or veil stuffing. It wasn’t until the 19th century that turkey became widely available for wealthier families. However, as the bird became more popular and advances in technology made it less expensive, turkey soon became the dominant Christmas dish for middle-class families by the beginning of the 20th century.
Christmas dinner wouldn’t be complete without a Christmas Pudding. Originating from the medieval figgy pudding and eventually taking a more solid form, Victorian’s eventually created the ritual of making their Christmas pudding weeks ahead as a family. However, the art of soaking a Christmas pudding in alcohol and lighting it on fire stems from Victoria and her family setting a bowl of boozy raisins on fire with an aim to extract as many raisins as possible from the bowl.
Get the Look
Overall, a Victorian Christmas is all about spending time with family and celebrating age old traditions together. Inspired by the regency era, the Victorian Christmas trend oozes British culture, nostalgia, and grandeur. An easy look to create in the home with traditional Christmas colours of red, green, and gold with fir wreaths and garlands, this timeless trend can also be built up over time with handmade decorations and collectibles.
If you really want to have a Victorian Christmas, a turkey dinner with all the trimmings followed by a Christmas pudding is essential. A grand feast deserves a striking table setting to be proud of. Serve on large platters for all to share with a beautiful red table cloth and crisp white napkins, golden napkin rings and luxury crackers finished with flickering candles. If you really want to get into the spirit, why not have traditional Victorian Christmas carols playing in the background?