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Christmas in the Age of Victoria

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Christmas was not considered a major holiday. Many businesses would remain open, and any celebrations that happened were very subdued. But by the end of the century, Christmas was much more of the major holiday that we would recognize today. How did this change occur? A combination of factors from all parts of society came together at the same time.

Part of the change came from the top. The royal family, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, decorated Windsor Castle with Christmas trees, as well as sweets, dried fruits, and gifts. Images of the family were widely published, and the public began to decorate their own homes. This makes sense; you can point to many times in history where the public imitated the fashions and designs of their sovereigns.

Christmas traditions were also boosted by printed material. In 1842, Henry Cole commissioned an artist to create a card with a scene of a group of people sharing a meal and a Christmas message. This first card was expensive, but those who couldn't afford to buy them would make their own. Children were especially encouraged to color their own cards for friends and family. Printing technology improved throughout the century, so by the 1880's most people could afford to purchase mass produced Christmas cards.

Christmas traditional foods also saw a revival during the 1800s. As we saw earlier, mince pie had been a holiday food in the Tudor era. In the Victorian age, this dish became popular again, although in many recipes the meat was replaced with fruit.

We have to mention gifts! Originally, gift giving was done on New Year's Day. But as Christmas became more and more important to Victorian families, this tradition was moved to Christmas day. The gifts also became more elaborate. At first they were often handmade trinkets or perhaps food, so that is why the gifts could be placed in the tree. As the century went on, buying gifts from shops became more popular, especially in cities. Since the gifts were larger and more elaborate, people began to put them under the tree.





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