Sometimes we think about life more than 100 years ago and imagine simpler times. But when it came to Christmas, the Victorians really did it up right. Decorating, feasting and sharing songs, music and gifts with others were all the order of the day. I was recently reading one of my favorite Christmas books, Joy to the World by Cynthia Hart, John Gossman and Priscilla Dunhill, for a refresher on Victorian Yuletide customs. If you want to experience a nostalgic holiday, take these suggestions to heart. You might, however, find theyre not so different from your own favorite holiday traditions.
Send Christmas Cards
As a continuation of the Valentine tradition, the Victorians extended the custom of sharing holiday greetings to Christmas. While Valentines were reserved primarily for those young and in love, Christmas cards were sent to everyone. During the Gilded Age, they became more and more frilly and adorned. The late-Victorian era yielded Christmas postcard greetings, which were wildly popular for sending and collecting.
Go CarolingVictorians revived the centuries old custom of singing carols to celebrate the season, which included adding new life to the 400 year-old song The First Noel. They not only went door to door singing for friends and neighbors, they enjoyed carols in parlors at home and during beautiful candlelit worship services in local sanctuaries. And where there was song, there was sheet music. Nicely illustrated pieces with Christmas themes from the early 1900s are quite collectible today.
Decorate a TreeA photo of Queen Victoria near a bedecked Christmas tree with her family sparked a tree-trimming frenzy in Victorian homes. The German custom of tabletop Christmas trees was taken to new heights by Victorians who placed them on the floor in their homes. They adorned their beloved evergreens with flickering candles, fancy paper Santas, glistening angels, chocolate wreaths, gilded apples, silver cornucopias decorated with tinsel tassels, and dozens of other beautiful ornaments.
Prepare a Feast
The English tradition of the wassail bowl and serving plum pudding transitioned to America in many areas. The plum pudding (the round dessert illustrated here) held charms holding symbolism for the person who ended up with that particular piece of dessert a ring for marriage, a coin for wealth and a silver thimble for a happy yet single life. Being a German delicacy at the time, carp was often enjoyed by Victorian families served on special fish china sets during Christmas feasts as well. Many American homes also enjoyed turkey, ham, jams, jellies, pickles and several types of potatoes along with oyster dressing, pudding and stew.