Some Christmas traditions feel as old as time itself, and it’s almost impossible to imagine the holiday season without decorating the home with a Christmas tree and indulging on turkey and pigs in blankets (we would mention sprouts here too, but we’re still not convinced they deserve a place on the Christmas menu…)
Today, Christmas is a mishmash of traditions, each stemming from different eras in history. Many traditions come and go, but Christmas as we know it is rooted deeply in Victorian history – with a few modern day twists of course.
Victorian traditions still around today
The Christmas tree was popularised by Prince Albert in the 1841, quickly becoming a staple in every home. It’s a tradition that’s now so iconic we doubt it’ll ever leave us. The same goes for cooking turkey on Christmas Day – not every single family may eat it but it’s definitely regarded as the Christmas meat. Dickens immortalised the bird forever (to their displeasure we’re guessing) by mentioning it in A Christmas Carol.
Eating mince pies, of the non-meaty kind, appeared sometime during the Victorian era too. Real minced meat was used in the Middle Ages, but we have the Victorians to thank for the popular treat that we see commercialised today.
And, of course, we have the Victorians to thank for Christmas cards. An estimated 900 million are sold in the UK every year, although modern day cards are a little bit different to the first few created for Henry Cole in 1843. By the 1880s it was expected of families to send cards. This is what Cassells Household Guide, New and Revised Edition c.1880s had to say on Christmas card etiquette:
“Except when very intimate, callers do not enter the house; the mere act of leaving a card signifies a friendly intention.”
No wonder it caught on, it’s definitely a great way to cut out any awkward Christmas chit-chat with those people you know, but don’t really know. We are glad, however, the 1880’s habit of depicting dead robins on cards didn’t stick around for long!
The ones that didn’t make it
The Victorians did celebrate Christmas a little differently, and it seems we’ve decided to drop quite a few of their unusual traditions.
For example, the typical Victorian Christmas afternoon would be spent eating dinner, taking a short nap (sounds about right so far, but bear with us!) and then heading out to do some Christmas shopping. We’re certainly thankful that shops are no longer open on Christmas Day.
Celebrating the Twelve Days of Christmas is a tradition that’s slowly lessening as time goes on too. Today, we no longer spend twelve whole days feasting and partying, and our biggest celebration falls on December 25th or January 1st, not January 5th. We have kept hold of a few elements though, like Christmas carols, Boxing Day and only leaving our Christmas decorations up 12 days after Christmas.
We’ve also pretty much said goodbye to putting a coin in Christmas pudding and only letting the kids see the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve – how cruel!
Modern day traditions
You might not have realised it, but we’ve developed our own festive rituals over the past 60 or 70 years. They reflect a more contemporary way of living, and it makes us wonder how long they’ll stick around for.
Watching the Queen’s speech on TV first started in 1957, although it was broadcast on the radio from 1932. It’s certainly something we all tune into whilst sitting on the sofa waiting for Christmas dinner to cook.
Leaving mince pies and a carrot for Rudolf is a fairly modern tradition too. The Victorians weren’t big fans of Santa, so the jolly old fellow probably went hungry during the 1800’s.
If you work in an office, it’s inevitable that you’ll be taking part in Secret Santa. A Western tradition, it involves being assigned a random member of a group of friends or colleagues and having to anonymously give them a small gift.
A modern tradition for the UK, but a Middle Aged tradition for many countries in Europe, is the Christmas market. Thousands flock to them every year, but it’s a recent custom for us Brits. The first was recorded in Lincoln in 1982 – we’re very glad they’ve stuck around since then.
And did you know, opening presents on Christmas Day is a modern tradition too? In Victorian times, presents were opened on Christmas Eve. While it might mean the kids end up getting a better night’s sleep, we think our modern day version is much better. It prolongs the excitement and Christmas cheer after all!