Christmas Traditions

  • Posted on 20th December 2016 by Guest - Emma

  • The 1840’s were a great time for the re-invention of Christmas. A Christmas Carol, the Christmas card, and the Christmas cracker were all invented within a year or so of each other but the icing on the cake was the picture of the royal family in the Illustrated London News. Gathered around the Christmas tree, the royal family was the perfect poster family for Christmas. It was this image that sent families running out to get their own trees for their parlours. Christmas was back with renewed vigour!
     
    In 1843, a rather time-poor Sir Henry Cole was scratching his head over how he could cut down the amount of writing he had to do over the festive period. It was normal to write epistles to distant family members and far flung friends, a hobby that many enjoyed but not Sir Henry! Enter the artist, John Calcott Horsley of the Royal Academy of Arts who was commissioned by Sir Henry to develop a decorated ‘notelet’. The space available for writing was just a small rectangle, perfect for a few perfunctory lines and a “Merry Christmas to all.” He had a thousand printed and those he didn’t use went on sale in his Bond Street stationer’s shop. Slowly over the space of a few decades, the greetings card idea took off and became the popular tradition that still continues today – all greatly helped by the Penny Post.
    A Christmas Carol, published on 19th December 1843 has helped cement the Christmas customs of olde England and fixed our image of the snowy midwinter with Smoking Bishop (mulled wine), a golden brown roast turkey and family cheer. The ever-so-nostalgic Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol to shock people. He uses a ghost story to remind people to be kind and thoughtful towards others. The winter solstice, the longest night of the year was traditionally a time for a ghostly Winters Tale, as, on this night, the boundaries between the physical and spiritual worlds were considered particularly permeable. It was believed that spirits would return to Earth to finish unsettled business - exactly what Jacob Marley does in A Christmas Carol.
    Long winter nights were a great time to tell long tales, especially spooky ones. This tradition stretches back many hundreds of years but it was the Victorians who loved all things supernatural and the tradition of telling ghost stories at Christmas stuck. A Christmas Carol scared many selfish Victorians and it makes you wonder how many were kept awake on Christmas Eve expecting the visit of the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future!
     
     
    Throughout many cultures and across several centuries, Christmas was a time of gift giving. In Victorian times, the festival became a celebration that centred on children. Wooden toys were traditionally made in the East End and sent all over the country to happy children waiting eagerly for Father Christmas to arrive. Christmas crackers were invented in the early 1840’s by a London sweet-maker called Tom Smith. He used to sell these bonbons wrapped in twists of paper. Ever the inventor, Tom was always looking for ways of selling sweets and making money. He added ‘love messages’ into the twisted paper but the ‘snap’ of the ‘cracker’ seemed to have been a delightful accident. As was usual at this time, people would have large fires to warm themselves in their parlours. Tom was nodding off nicely in front of his when a crackling log rolled out of the fire. The noise woke him, and although most people would be alarmed at the potential for fire, he had found the element to make his sweet sales go with a bang! Eventually the sweet was replaced with small trinkets and a paper crown and the Christmas Cracker was born. 
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