Christmas Past - a Victorian Christmas, Rikki Knight, 1996

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HORATIA DURANT MEMORIAL PRIZE ESSAY COMPETITION 1996

CHRISTMAS PASTIME

BY - RIKKI KNIGHT

Christmas is a very special celebration which is well-known in many countries over the world. In England we celebrate Christmas on the 25th December. Although many other countries celebrate Christmas on different dates. Christmas in the olden days was different than it is now.

People used to do what we do now but in many different ways. The Christmas celebration was started by a man called St. Nicholas from Myra in Asia. St. Nicholas looked after the poor people. One family was so poor he wanted to save them from starvation and distress, but he didn't want them to know about it. When the oldest daughter was to marry he dropped a bag of gold down her chimney. It landed in one of her shoes which was left on the hearth. He did this to all of the three daughters but on the last time St. Nicholas was discovered by the grateful father. St. Nicholas swore the man to secrecy. That's why children hang up stockings for presents.

After St. Nicholas was caught someone was needed to take place of sending presents. A merry old character from childrens plays known as Father Christmas took over. It was Prince Albert Queen Victoria's German husband who made the Christmas tree popular in Britain. In 1848 the Illustrated London News described the royal tree as about 8 feet tall and decorated with candles and things that can be eaten like fancy cakes and gingerbread men. Candles were used to light up the tree but then for safety reasons candles were stopped because too many accidents happened from fire.

In 1895 a telephone worker thought the tiny lights off the switchboard would look good on his Christmas tree. His ideas led up to many different shapes, sizes and colours of lights made. Everybody used these for decorations but most of the poor people couldn't afford them. Other decorations were evergreens to get rid of evil spirits and a great big log was brought into the house which was to burn over the 12 days of Christmas. Holly was also used and years ago it was called Holm. Rosemary was used for its fragrant smell, Mistletoe has a place but some of the old churches banned it from being used. Mistletoe was linked with kissing, a berry was given to the person you were going to kiss.

There was always a feast at Christmas. Turkey with all the trimmings, vegetables and bread were eaten. The pudding started off as a rich porridge made from meat and dried fruits. Then gradually over the years the pudding got thicker and thicker. Now we use dried fruits, nuts, suet, brown sugar and spices to make a rich pudding. The people also ate mince pies at Christmas. They were made from minced meat and shaped like a cradle.

In those days Christmas cards were sometimes made by copper plating. Children in school would get a piece of copper plating and using a hard object they would print a special message into it and give it to who they wanted to like their parents. Our Christmas customs may be mixed with old superstitions and forgotten beliefs, but with Jesus coming they have been given new life. Jesus is at the heart of Christmas.

BOOKS - Monmouth Library Christmas Book – Mary Batchelor Festivals and Celebrations – Rowland Purton A Harvest of Festivals Readers Digest Book of Christmas


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