The victorian christmas revival
I’ve mentioned in previous posts how the rise of Steam locomotives brought about massive social and economic changes in Britain - from the introduction of standardised time to Fish & Chips becoming the national dish.
So, as Yuletide descends on us, I thought it might be apt to investigate how the Victorians and the steam age affected the way we Brits celebrated Christmas, both in Norfolk and across the country.
What was Christmas like before the Victorian’s?
Christmas wasn’t always the massive deal it is today - it’s popularity has gone up and down for centuries. It was even banned altogether under Oliver Cromwell during the 1640’s - albeit restored when the monarchy came back in 1660 (Although the Cromwell Association dismiss this as an over simplification).
By the 1800’s however the significance of Christmas had dwindled to the extent that in the 1840’s the christmas holiday for governmental departments had gone down from about a week in 1797 to only CHristmas Day itself!
By this point everyone thought that the notion of celebrating Christmas was on it’s last legs - so why the big turn around?
Charles & Albert - the saviour’s of Christmas
It’s often widely reported that it was the writer Charles Dickens who saved Christmas from disappearing from our calendars. Whilst he didn’t invent any of the traditions or hallmarks of a “traditional” Christmas, his writing undoubtably promoted the reemergence of Yuletide as a thing to celebrate.
He also helped develop the Christmas ”brand"- branding being something that the Victorians were pioneers of, with steam trains continue forms of manufacture making it possible to distribute Products and ideas all over the country(and, indeed, the world!).
So it is that Charles Dickens is often referred to as"The father of Christmas", but there is another who can also take some of the credit(Or blame!) And that's Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s ill-fated husband.
It was Albert who brought over the tradition of having a Christmas tree from Germany to England, which he did for the amusement of the Royal children at Windsor in 1840. He was also apparently in the habit of giving and receiving gifts, pronouncing Christmas as " I day for the exchange of presents, as marks of mutual affection and goodwill”.
He didn't make these up on the spot - these would've been traditional German festive activities which probably made him feel a bit more at home in a strange country.
Suffice to say, this is rather took off.
Christmas innovations introduced by the Victorians
I've already mentioned how the Victorians pioneered the branding of products, and being a nation of entrepreneurial industrialists and shopkeepers it didn't take Long to realise that This Christmas fad- with its strong emphasis on giftgiving and making merry - presented an excellent opportunity to sell stuff.
It was in the Victorian period the modern department store emerged - shops such as Selfridges and John Lewis - and Christmas offered a perfect opportunity to attract customers to their stores. By the 1880’s extravagant window displays had become essential lure as many Shoppers as possible into the stores.
It was Gordon Selfridge himself during this period who first used the phrase “Only 10 shopping days to Christmas”- Cleverly developing a sense of urgency in anticipation about the approaching event!
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By Alastair Baker at 14 Dec 2015, 00:00 AM