Thursday, December 10, 2009


"CHRISTMAS CHEER" by George S. Knowles

I don't think I'd be overstating it much to say that the Victorians invented Christmas, at least as we celebrate it. To be sure, Christmas began with the birth of the Christ child and was either secretly observed or quietly or raucously celebrated, depending on the century.

But the Victorians are credited with many of the traditions we observe today. They revived an old and jovial Viking winter figure and named him "The Spirit of Christmas" and later "Father Christmas". They reinstated the ancient pagan custom of taking evergreens into the home, created the first Christmas card, brought back caroling and turned a once-riotous free for all into a family celebration.

During the 1840s, England’s Queen Victoria and her German-born husband, Prince Albert, introduced the Christmas tree, so popular in his homeland, as the centerpiece of the royal family’s holiday celebration. The scene was immortalized in both the Illustrated London News and Godey’s Lady’s Book in America, capturing the fancy of Victorian women. Very rapidly the “pretty German toy”, as the Christmas tree was frequently called, passed from interesting folk custom to tradition.

The wealth generated by the new factories and industries of the Victorian age allowed middle class families in England and Wales to take time off work and celebrate over two days, Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Boxing Day, December 26th, earned its name as the day servants and working people opened the boxes in which they had collected gifts of money from the "rich folk". Those new-fangled inventions, the railways, allowed the country people who had moved into the towns and cities in search of work to return home for a family Christmas.

Victoria and Albert's Christmas Tree
(English newspaper version)

Victoria and Albert's Christmas Tree (American version)
(Note how this was Americanized for Godey's
Lady's Book. Victoria's crown has been removed,
as well as Albert's mustache, and the number of
children decreased. Apparently there was
Photoshopping in Victorian times too!)

Christmas crackers were invented by London sweetmaker Tom Smith in 1846. And then of course there is Charles Dickens, with his stories like "A Christmas Carol", who is often credited as The Man Who Invented Christmas, as claimed by London's Sunday Telegraph.
At the start of Victoria's reign, children's toys tended to be handmade and hence expensive, generally restricting availability to the rich. With factories, however, came mass production, which brought with it games, dolls, books and clockwork toys all at a more affordable price. Affordable that is, to middle-class children. In a poor child's Christmas stocking, which first became popular from around 1870, only an apple, orange and a few nuts could be found.
The "Penny Post" was first introduced in Britain in 1840 by Rowland Hill. The idea was simple: a penny stamp paid for the postage of a letter or card to anywhere in Britain. This simple idea paved the way for the sending of the first Christmas cards. Sir Henry Cole tested the water in 1843 by printing a thousand cards for sale in his art shop in London at one shilling each. The popularity of sending cards was helped along when in 1870 a halfpenny postage rate was introduced as a result of the efficiencies brought about by the railways.

"CHRISTMAS DOLE" by Joseph Clarke
(Bringing in the plum pudding)

In honor of the Victorian invention of beloved Christmas, I thought I would post a number of Victorian Christmas paintings to go with a MeMe challenge given to me by Mary in New York, who has several blogs, including "Celtic Dreamscape" (on my sidebar) and "Moontides". (I love the true Victorian paintings but hate the treacly modern interpretations. (Do you hear me, Thomas Kinkade?)

1. Have you started your Christmas shopping?

Ha, Ha, too funny! Are you kidding me? I don’t even have the money yet to start shopping. But even when I had money, I was never one to shop early. You don't get the best deals by shopping early!

2. Tell me about one of your special traditions.

Dan and Kristen used to make sugar cookies every Christmas Eve Day. They would take over the kitchen and make batch after batch. They would cut cookie dough with holiday cookie cutters and top them with sprinkles.

3. Are you a Black Friday shopper?

Did that once, at Columbia Mall in Grand Forks with an infant Kristen.  Once was enough.

(Giving presents to the poor)

4. When do you put up your tree?

Usually on the first Sunday in December, the same day I set out my decorations. However, last year we didn't buy our tree until Christmas week. (We didn't have the Christmas Spirit at the time, but we did manage to find it.) We don't have a tree yet this year - it's too damn cold to be looking for a real tree.

We have tried out many types of Christmas trees - the spindly firs of our childhoods, white pine, scotch pine, and even a hand-cut blue spruce, but have finally settled on Fraser Firs as the best tree to hold ornaments and not get dried out really quickly.

5. Do you travel at Christmas or stay home?

During my years in college, and as a young wife and mother, I traveled a lot, first going home from Grand Forks (six hours) and then from Bismarck (four hours). For a long time we split our holiday visits between my parents' home in Larson and Dan's parents home in Williston. Then, they started coming to Bismarck and I was the hostess. Now that they have all passed, we stay home, going no farther than to my sister's house in Lincoln, five miles away.

6. What is your funniest Christmas memory?

I didn't know about it when it happened, or for many years afterward. It wasn't until the night before my stepfather's funeral that Brother Ron told us that he had seen Santa and his reindeer fly across the moon when he was a little boy. We found this to be extremely hilarious and laughed and howled until we cried. (PS - Brother Ron also fervently believed in UFOs, which may help explain our hilarity.)


7. What is your favorite Christmas movie of all time? Of recent movies, I love "The Family Stone" and "While You Were Sleeping". Not counting the movies that everyone lists ("A Wonderful Life", Miracle on 34th Street"), I would have to say "The Snowman" by Raymond Briggs. I will be doing a post on my favorite Christmas movies.

8. Do you do your own Christmas baking, what’s your favorite treat?

I do not bake. See #2 above. I should have been the one baking though. Dan and Kristen made hard sugar cookies, and I like my sugar cookies soft, with buttercream frosting. For the holidays, I also love fudge, peanut brittle, thumbprint cookies, overnight (refrigerator) cookies, snickerdoodles, Swedish pepparkakor (heart-shaped gingersnap cookies) and Norwegian sandbakkels, rosettes and krumkake.

Regarding sweets, I love chocolate-covered cherries, chocolate drops, red and green M&Ms, chocolate oranges, Hershey's holiday kisses, Christmas mint patties . . . Yes, I love a Chocolate Christmas. Nuts - I'm the one who'll eat the pistachios when no one else will, and I will fight you for the cashews. With nuts you have to crack, I love hazelnuts, and Brazil nuts, which had a common, horrid racial name when I was a kid. The Brazil nuts were so difficult that I had to have Dad The Expert Nutcracker crack them.

9. Fake or Real Tree?

Real. You can’t beat the smell of a fresh evergreen tree. Dan and I agreed years ago to never get an artificial tree.


10. What day (as a mom) does the actual panic set in to get it all done?

Although it used to, panic doesn't set in any more. If the top shelves don't get dusted, or the last decorations set out, or the Christmas wreath purchased for the door, it doesn't matter. The basics will get done and that's all that counts.

11. Are you still wrapping presents on Christmas Eve?

Oh, yes. Late Christmas Eve afternoons, I would still be wrapping gifts and - glue gun in hand - fancily decorating them with silk flowers, lace, ribbons and trinkets. These days, I'm still racing the clock, but I'm putting gifts into gift bags, not wrapping them.

12. What is your favorite family fun time at Christmas?

Going to movies. I used to go with my Aunt Mary, but now Kristen and I go. This year, though, there's really nothing special I want to see.

"THEIR CHRISTMAS EVE" by John Sargent Noble

13. What Christmas craft do you like the best?

I used to do so many needlework crafts for Christmas. I loved to do embroidery, especially crewel work. I worked for weeks and weeks on Kristen's stocking, which we still use today (I had to take it completely apart a few years ago and carefully wash it in cold water after she spilled Coke all over it), a little "Baby's First Christmas" stocking, a table runner, a needlepoint-on-plastic angel, a couple of small cross-stitch pictures featuring cardinals, etc. etc.

However, I ruined my love for needlework when I became a "Creative Circle" representative and held home parties to sell needlecraft kits. I had to make so many demonstration pieces that I burned myself out, but good. I haven't picked up a needle in years.

14. Christmas music. Yes or No, and if yes what is your favorite song?

Oh, Yes! It's one part of Christmas (along with outdoor lights) that I still really enjoy. I love "What Child Is This?" and "Good King Wenceslas". By the way, when I answered the same question, posed by my Aunt Mary, she said, "Oh, you would pick those!"

Wow, can one ever read a lot into five small words. I know she meant, "I've always thought you were weird, and this proves it." I can't help it, I love those old English carols. (And my favorite non-holiday hymn is "Jerusalem".)

Songs I hate: "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer", "Feliz Navidad", "Little Drummer Boy". I hate LDB because my stepdad used to think he was funny by singing Ah ruh-ha-ha-hung" instead of "Ah-rump-pa-pum."

15. When do you plan to finish all your shopping?

It won't take long. I only have five people to buy for. My list gets smaller and smaller each year. I don't even have a workplace "Secret Santa" present or a book club gift to buy this year. Not having much money, my sister and I have agreed to buy only one nice gift for each person in the other's family. That leaves Dan and Kristen, and we'll be cutting back in our family too.

A favorite author of mine, Dee Hardie, wrote in her book "Hollyhocks, Lambs and Other Pleasures", that she never went to the marketplace during the week before Christmas. I have tried so hard to keep that same promise, but have never managed to do so.

I am supposed to pick five people to continue this meme, but you know me, I am a rebel. Instead, I invite anyone who wants to do this meme to do so, and I'd love it if you'd let me know what you've written.

"CHRISTMAS EVE" by George Goodwin Kilburne

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know that I use a great many beautiful paintings in my posts. The following site has been invaluable to me in finding these pictures:

"CHRISTMAS EVE 1901" by Carlton Alfred Smith


mxtodis123 said...

I love these old Victorian pictures. Where do you find them?

Annie Jeffries said...

Oh, I have to do this Julie.
1. I do mainly online shopping
2. Fruit and Nuts in our stockings.
3. Black Friday? See #1
4. One tree up, one to go.
5. We've been staying home lately.
6. Don bringing home our first Christmas tree and surprising me with it.
7. Miracle on 34th Street
8. Don makes a banana cake every year.
9. Trees fake and real
10. No shopping panic allowed
11. I'm a last minute wrapper
12. Playing board games
13. Crafts? NOT
14. Traditional Christmas music
15. When will I finish? Hah!!

Janet said...

Julie, I haven't been much in the spirit this year but this beautiful post and the fun meme might have done the trick!

JoAnn ( Scene Through My Eyes) said...

What a lovely post - I am so excited about christmas almost being here. Think I'll go over to my blog and do this too - I love memes.

Janet said...

I love the pictures too. I also love reading your questions and answers. I guess many of us are in the same boat. This year I got sick right before Thanksgiving so my decorations aren't the usual, but that's ok What I have up is special and hubby and I are going to be with grandkids the day after Christmas. You have a beautiful blog.

Kate Robertson said...

Wonderful post. We made the same tree vow and always get a real tree. I love Grand Fir's cause they smell so wonderful.....

Happy Holidays Julie.


Odette Bautista Mikolai said...

i think we basically feel the same, i don't feel festive yet and had not put up my Xmas decor till last Sunday while all my neighbors had theirs weeks before.
i like this Meme and want to use it in my next blog. can I?

Colleen - the AmAzINg Mrs. B said...

Your choice of art is perfect as usual...lovely!

Ruthie Redden said...

Hi julie, thank you for this so interesting post, i am printing it out to keep in my sketchbook. I do hope that you have a wonderful christmas & am send hugs x x x x

Autumn Leaves said...

What an absolutely wonderful post, Julie! As always, the artwork is absolutely fabulous and I loved reading of some of the origins of our current traditions. In Chicago, the Museum of Science and Industry used to do (and still may) Christmas Around the World. In this magnificent display were trees decorated in the traditional decorations of many, many different countries! I learned to make German bells in grade school and I think I can still do them. Do you know what kind of Christmas tree that is in the Queen Victoria painting? Those are my favorites and I used to buy them when I lived in WA. I don't see them out here in Illinois and I'd love to have that Christmas tree again. I've never been able to remember that type of tree name though!

Lena said...

Hi there you. I've dropped by to wish you Happy Holidays. I hope you're well, Julie.

I love that Dee Hardie book, and have it on my shelves. She has written another one as well, but I've not read that one. Have you?

This is a terrific post!


Joyce said...

Hey Julie,
LOOOOVED your little pictures......and I loooove the Victorian information...which I pretty much know but like to recount.
Oh I can't answer all those many questions. But might attempt a few.

We always did a real tree but have resorted to a nice lighted fake one that is about 4 1/2-5 feet tall in a planter.
I trimmed our house Thankgiving weekend because I work retail AND because we are traveling to NYC for Christmas Holidays!
So that should answer about three questions huh? HA~!
I shop all over......especially at the little shop I work at. And online and where ever else I choose.
My most FAVE Christmas movie is "Going My Way" amongst many others.....was that one of the questions? HA!

I USED to do alot of Christmas crafts but do not any longer.

I have many Christmas memories of my Grandparents/and their house when I was still living in Missouri as a child.

I usally make fudge at least and sometimes "Swedish Coffee Cakes" and some sort of cookies.
I've made fudge TWICE this week and it's not turned out well either time. I had to THROW the first batch out even. Bad weather in Louisiana is what I am blaming it and rainy....and now cold and rainy.

I LOOOOOOVE Christmas music...all types. Old mainly and some of the new like Manheim Steamroller...and those Trans Siberian people.

All my out of town and out of country packages are mailed off and my Christmas cards........

I am "on it" this year because we fly out the 22nd Dec.

Thanks for the information and your personal touch!!

I really like your blog banner too.....I can't seem to find mine any longer since our computer was wiped and someone loaded everything onto a pin drive thingy. HA! Oh well....

MERRY Christmas!

gma said...

Going shopping today. We make a great fudge recipe. Melt a block of Velveeta cheese & a bag of Chocolate chips. Add some nuts and powdered sugar. Let cool and Viola! Cheesy fudge, YUM!
Great post Julie. So excited for you that Kristen will be home for Christmas!
With love xxx

Shopgirl said...

Julie, I answered your questions on my blog...I really enjoyed this post. The pictures are fun.
Hugs, Mary

marthaberry said...

Well Julie, we are kindred spirits for sure. My list almost identically matches yours! But my love of British traditions makes everyone around me roll their eyes, but they love hearing my entertaining trivia tidbits.

I try to "keep Christmas" in the customs I have read about in Hardy, Dickens, and so many other great stories. I keep the decorations up until 12th night, and have recently began having a party near that day, complete with wassailing the apple tree!

I love the pictures you chose. Thanks for the shot of Christmas Spirit.

Lila Rostenberg said...

I always love reading your honest account of your world!
I have found that Christmas comes no matter how "manic" I get about it, so I am trying to focus on quiet things now that the basic decorations are in place!
Seeing family is more important than shopping!

Such a Wondrous Place this Faery Space said...

Blessings sweet lady. Take care and have joy this season.

couragetocreatewriteandlove said...

enjoyed reading your meme very very much!
yay for chocolate!

Mary said...

I loved this post so much and even though I'm not quite old enough to be Victorian, I agree that they did put the bling into Christmas celebrations and therefore created many wonderful traditions.

Julie, your images and historical facts brought many memories of my childhood Christmasses to mind....and they are lovely memories. Thank you so much for taking time to regale us with so much beauty, you are truly a special lady.

My good wishes to you, Dan and Kristen (hope she'll be home with you) at this lovely season. Stay warm, enjoy your Christmas - and may the coming year bring you all good health and much happiness.