Christmas Past - A Victorian Christmas, Donna Lynch, 1996

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HORATIA DURANT MEMORIAL PRIZE ESSAY COMPETITION 1996

CHRISTMAS PAST – A VICTORIAN CHRISTMAS

BY - DONNA LYNCH

Christmas was celebrated over two days, Christmas Day and Boxing Day. The rich people had a meal cooked for them by their servants. Christmas dinner if you lived in the North was beef and in the South it was goose many poor people had to take their goose or beef to the baker's oven to be cooked. Working people saved a little bit of their wages every week to pay for the goose or beef. Silver coins were put into the pudding and make a wish. Brandy was poured over the pudding and then set alight. Victorian's used to make a twelfth night cake.

The book, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, encouraged sad richer people to give money and gifts to the poor at Christmas time. The gifts to the poor people were given on Boxing Day. The church was always decorated with evergreens, the houses were decorated with evergreens too. Victorians were the first ones to write carols down on paper. The first carol to be printed was, O Come All Ye faithful in 1843, a lot of the carols we sing today were published in Victorian times, Once in Royal David's City, O Little Town of Bethlehem and Away in a Manger.

Groups of musicians and singers went from door to door singing carols, they were called “the waits”. They were given drinks, gifts of food and sometimes money.

The first card was made for a Sir Henry Cole in 1843. He sold them for a shilling each in his shop in London. The very first Christmas tree was at Windsor Castle. Prince Albert introduced the custom from Germany. The trees were decorated with Union Jacks and flags of the British Empire. Candles were put in a metal holder on the tree and lit. In rich houses, a servant guarded the tree to make sure that it did not catch fire.

Christmas decorations were made from wire and decorated with evergreens, fruit, ribbons, paper and a sprig of mistletoe. An old custom was to kiss under the mistletoe. Children made decorations by sticking strips of paper together with glue made from flour and water. Poor people sometimes wrote Christmas messages with chalk around their fireplaces.

In early Victorian times adults gave each other presents on New Years' Day. It wasn't until later that children were given presents on Christmas Day. Many Christmas gifts were hand made. Children hung their stockings up on Christmas Eve, they would normally be given an apple or orange, a new penny and perhaps a small toy. Cheap toys were bought by poorer people from street traders or penny bazaars. Tom Smith a London sweet maker invented the first Christmas cracker in 1846.


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