Holiday Traditions in Victorian England
- Charity: Christmas was a time to remember the less fortunate, and a host of charitable causes stepped up their appeals during the holiday season. Well-to-do individuals often visited poorhouses and other charitable institutions on Christmas Day, when a holiday dinner was served to the residents.
- Boxing Day: The day after Christmas, was traditionally the day when servants and tradesmen were paid for services rendered during the year: money was deposited in the Christmas box.
- The Toy Store Window: Many of the toys in Victorian England were similar to the toys you have today, with one important difference: the material. There was no plastic; there were no electronic parts; and of course, there were no video games! Young boys played with tin soldiers, tin drums and even metal yo-yos. Young girls played with dolls. A very wealthy little girl could have had a beautiful creation with a head and arms made of wax or china and a body made of stuffed calico or carved out of wood. She could have dressed her doll in layers of silk or taffetta. Girls who could not afford extravagant dolls made their dolls at home from rags, gave them button eyes, and loved them just as much as if they were made .
- Tree: Christmas trees became popular after an illustration of Victoria, Albert, and their children decorating a Christmas tree was published in The Illustrated London News in 1848 (shown on the left). Victorian Christmas trees were elaborately decorated with trinkets such as tin soldiers, dolls, whistles, candies, fruit, nuts, and candles. Many decorations were homemade, and children often helped make garlands and paper decorations.
- Dance: In A Christmas Carol, partygoers at the Fezziwigs’ indulge in spirited dancing, akin to modern day square dancing. Another traditional dance was the Pavon or Pavane, named after the peacock because the movements of the gentlemen in their mantles and the ladies in their long gowns resembled a peacock’s sweeping steps.
- Decorations: Then as now, halls were decked with holly, ivy, red berries, and of course, mistletoe. Young sweethearts
Let’s Not Forget the Food!
So why gruel?
While the Cratchits treated themselves to Christmas pudding, Scrooge greedily dug into his evening gruel. It was a thin, bland mix of oats and water or milk, and an economical meal to prepare and easy to make in bulk, which is why it was a favorite in institutions like prisons and workhouses—and in Scrooge’s lonely, sparse household. Like most Londoners at the time, Scrooge also believed gruel had medicinal qualities that could cure a cold.
- Beverages: “Here we go a-wassailing,” begins a familiar carol. No Victorian Christmas was complete without a Wassail Bowl, a strong mulled punch made of sweetened and spiced ale or wine and garnished with roasted crab apples. Drinking the wassail from the same cup was the fashion.
Here are some traditional Victorian Christmas recipes to try in your own home!MRS BEETON'S OLD-TIME RECIPE FOR CHRISTMAS PLUM PUDDING
The following is adapted from recipe no. 1328 in Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management (out of copyright, author d. 1865), a compendium of the quintessential dishes of Victorian England.
- 340 gr (12 oz) raisins
- 230 gr (8 oz) currants
- 230 gr (8 oz) mixed peel
- 170 gr (6 oz) bread crumbs
- 170 gr (6 oz) suet
- 4 eggs
- ½ wineglassful of brandy
- Stone and cut the raisins in halves, but do not chop them
- Wash, pick, and dry the currants, and mince the suet finely
- Cut the candied peel into thin slices, and grate down the bread into fine crumbs
- When all these dry ingredients are prepared, mix them well together
- Moisten the mixture with the eggs, which should be well beaten, and the brandy
- Stir well, that everything may be very thoroughly blended, and press the pudding into a buttered mould
- Tie it down tightly with a floured cloth
- Boil for 5 or 6 hours. It may be boiled in a cloth without a mould, and will require the same time allowed for cooking.
- When the pudding is taken out of the pot, hang it up immediately by a hook, and put a plate or saucer underneath to catch the water that will drain from it. Leave it to dry out until Christmas Day.
- 1 quart unsweetened apple juice
- 3 cups unsweetened pineapple juice
- 2 cups reduced calorie cranberry juice
- 1 navel orange, sliced
- 1 medium lemon, sliced
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 3 whole cloves
- 1 (3 inch) stick cinnamon, broken
- In a large saucepan, combine all of the ingredients. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Discard the orange and lemon slices, cloves and cinnamon before serving.