Victorian Christmas Traditions: A Historical Celebration

A Victorian Christmas is festive and beautiful.

If you're interested in the history of Christmas, you may wonder how to incorporate Victorian Christmas traditions into your family's holiday celebration.

About the Victorian Era

The Victorian Era began in June, 1837, and concluded in January, 1901. The name of this time period comes from Queen Victoria's rule in the United Kingdom. At this time, the British people enjoy a long period of prosperity. The middle and upper classes were greatly interested in theater, music, and the arts. The effects of industrialization were also beginning to be felt on a wider level, leading to new comforts in the home.

Common Victorian Christmas Traditions

Victorians are credited with many of the customs we associated with Christmas today. For example:

  • Victorians commonly went Christmas caroling as part of their holiday celebrations.
  • They created the first Christmas cards.
  • They brought back the ancient pagan custom of using evergreens as Christmas trees.

A Victorian Christmas was a very family-oriented celebration. The Christmas holiday was a time for parents and children to celebrate their faith and be thankful for the blessings they had received throughout the year.

Planning a Victorian Christmas

If you'd like to have a Victorian-inspired Christmas celebration for your family, there are many different ways to accomplish this goal.

Decorate with Handmade Ornaments

Since the Victorians didn't have access to mass-produced ornaments, it was common for them to decorate their trees with handmade holiday creations. The Victoria Web site contains links to many pages describing how to make Victorian inspired Christmas tree ornaments.

Hang a Kissing Bough

Before the middle of the 19th century, the kissing bough was the primary piece of decorative greenery in the Victorian home for the holidays. A kissing bough, sometimes called a kissing ball, is a double hoop of evergreen boughs, holly, ivy, apples, pears, ribbons, lighted candles, and other ornaments with streamers going up to a central point and a sprig of mistletoe hung from its center. Victorian Christmas traditions dictate that any woman who wanders under the kissing bough has to allow herself to be kissed.

Add a Festive Touch with Candlelight

Candles were an important part of Victorian Christmas traditions. Many homes used an Advent wreath to decorate during the holidays. It was common to place lighted candles in a home's windows during the 12 days of Christmas to signify that food and shelter was available for weary travelers. Businesspeople also frequently gave candles to their customers as gifts.

Serve Christmas Pudding

Christmas pudding is a porridge made by boiling beef and mutton combined with raisins, currants, prunes, spices, eggs, breadcrumbs, ale, and spirits. This dish is made in large copper kettles and prepared several weeks before Christmas. Each member of the family takes turns stirring the thick stew and making a wish. It is the traditional end of a Victorian Christmas dinner.

Christmas pudding usually contains a silver coin, a ring, button, and thimble. Tradition says the finders of these respective objects will be given the gift of wealth, be married within the year, or be destined for bachelor or spinsterhood.

Give Children "Christmas Crackers"

Tom Smith, a London confectioner, designed a tube-shaped object filled with sweets and toys as a special Christmas favor for children. To open this Victorian "Christmas cracker", you pull on both ends to break the cylinder and create a popping sound.

Read a Christmas Story

On Christmas Eve, Victorian families often gathered around their Christmas tree to share a holiday story. Here are some great picks for your family celebration:

  • The Little Match Girl by Hans Christian Anderson: This classic tale tells the story of a young orphan girl struggling to stay alive by selling matches.
  • A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens: This is a popular holiday story describing how a miserly old man learns the true meaning of Christmas.
  • The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry: In this story, a young couple with no money sacrifices their most precious possessions to be able to buy gifts for each other on Christmas morning.
Victorian Christmas Traditions: A Historical Celebration