Victorian Christmas

Before Queen Victoira's reign the British population had not heard of either Santa Claus or Christmas Crackers . No Christmas cards were sent and most people did not have holidays from work.

However, 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".

The new Victoria factories also started to mass–produce games, dolls, books and clockwork toys all at a more affordable price and gifts started to given in Christmas stocking, which first became popular from around 1870.  A poor child’s stocking contained only an apple, orange and a few nuts.

Father Christmas was originally part of an old English midwinter festival, normally dressed in green, a sign of the returning spring. The stories of St. Nicholas (Sinter Klaas in Holland) came via Dutch settlers to America in the 17th Century. From the 1870's Sinter Klass became known in Britain as Santa Claus and with him came his unique gift and toy distribution system - reindeer and sleigh.

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.

In northern England roast beef was the traditional fayre for Christmas dinner while in London and the south, goose was favourite. Many poor people made do with rabbit. On the other hand, the Christmas Day menu for Queen Victoria and family in 1840 included both beef and of course a royal roast swan or two. By the end of the century most people feasted on turkey for their Christmas dinner.

Queen Victoria's German husband Prince Albert helped to make the Christmas tree as popular in Britain as they where in his native Germany, when he brought one to Windsor Castle in the 1840's.

Tom Smith, a London sweet maker in 1846, invented the Christmas Cracker. The original idea was to wrap his sweets in a twist of fancy coloured paper, but this developed and sold much better when he added love notes (motto's), paper hats, small toys and made them go off BANG!

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