Carols, Cards, Trees,
Many Christmas traditions we celebrate today were made popular by Queen Victoria and her beloved Prince Albert. The Victorians, with their love of nostalgia and history, rushed to copy everything done by their dear Queen.
Decorating Christmas trees, sending Christmas Cards, singing Carols, and exchanging gifts found favour with the English masses, who eagerly imitated the Royal Family. From Christmas Eve to Boxing Day, and from church to table.
Hope you enjoy reading more about them,
The word ‘carol’ comes from the old French ‘carole’ for a song written and played as a courtly dancing song. Carols then took on a more popular form, telling stories and celebrating religious themes for all seasons until the late 19th century when they became associated with Christmas.
In 1822, Davies Gilbert published “Some Ancient Christmas Carols”, in which he described a typical English West Country Christmas. The collection sang of food, drink, and good things celebrated at Christmas.
The British Museum said: “Mr. Gilbert has taken advantage of old Time, and made safe, for some centuries at least, a record of our ancient Christmas Carols; and for this good deed has secured the gratitude of Antiquaries yet unborn. These Carols are genuine national curiosities.”
They took the place of Psalms in all churches on Christmas Day and, as the whole congregation could join in, were greeted with huge approval. Carols were passed on orally from place to place, often with different words or tunes.
The published carols included songs still popular today, including The First Noël, I Saw Three Ships, and God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. This collection was followed by compilations of carols from other scholars such as William Sandy’s works in 1833 and 1852.
|Victorian, circa 1870 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
At the end of the winter term, schoolmasters would set their pupils to work on Christmas Pieces, samplers of writing on superior paper with engraved borders, to show parents how they had progressed during the year. By about 1820, the engraved borders were enhanced with color and the children’s pieces became more decorative.
In 1843, Sir Henry Cole commissioned an artist from the Royal Academy to design a card he could send to his large circle of family and friends instead of writing them letters. Postage had been standardized three years earlier and Cole had played a key role in initiating Uniform Penny Post.
Wanting to popularize the use of post, Cole hit upon a brilliant idea of spreading holiday cheer by sending cards. The card was issued from a periodical, Felix Summerly’s Home Treasury, and sold for a shilling a piece.
Lithographed and hand-colored, it showed a family of three generations quaffing wine and caused a furor among the temperate classes. On either side were allegorical vignettes depicting the feeding of the hungry and the clothing of the naked and the whole thing was enclosed in a rustic frame of carved wood and ivy.
Cards were shaped as a bell, a fan, a crescent, a circle, or a diamond and were folding, decorated with jewels, iridescent, embossed, and carried either simple Christmas and New Year greetings or had verses and carols written in them. The next year, Mr W.C.T. Dobson produced a sketch symbolizing the ‘Spirit of Christmas’ which sold many more than the previous thousand and the novelty caught on. More Victorian Christmas Cards More on Victorian publishers of Christmas cards
After Queen Victoria’s marriage to Prince Albert, the English adopted his German customs for trees and presents.
In 1841, a large tree was decorated in Windsor Castle and the Queen and her family exchanged gifts on Christmas Eve. Presents were laid out on tables, each of which had a Christmas tree at its centre.
On 24 December 1850 the Queen wrote in her journal,
‘My beloved Albert first took me to my tree and table, covered by such numberless gifts, really too much, too magnificent.’
In 1860, a visitor to Windsor Castle described how the rooms ‘were lighted up with Christmas trees hung from the ceiling, the chandeliers being taken down. These trees…were covered with bonbons and little wax colored lights, some of the trees were made to appear as if partially covered in snow.’
In 2011, Windsor Castle’s Christmas display follows Victorian tradition with a lavish dinner table setting and an artificial tree suspended from the Octagon Dining Room ceiling, where the chandelier usually hangs.
More on the Victorian Christmas Tree looks at Windsor Castle here.
In 1843, Charles Dickens turned the Christmas season back to one of festivity and merriment when his novel, A Christmas Carol, was published.Under financial stress, he wrote it during a period of intense creativity and completed the work in a mere six weeks, having made no working notes, outline, plans, or preliminary drafts.
The sixty-eight-page manuscript is viewable at the Morgan Library & Museum in New York City. The Morgan’s collection of Dickens’ manuscripts and letters is one of the two greatest collections in the world, the other being Britain's Victoria and Albert Museum.
NB - This story was immediately popular and critically acclaimed, and has been in print continuously for 157 years.