Recreating A Victorian Christmas: It’s Not As Difficult As You Think By Eve Pearce

539770-bigthumbnailA winter festival has been celebrated since pagan times but it wasn’t until the Victorian era (1837-1901) that traditions that are associated with Christmas really took off and the season began to resemble modern-day Christmas.
You may have thought that Christmas cards, Christmas crackers, turkey dinner with too much punch and opulent toy store displays were symbols of the commercialism that comes with today’s festive season, but they actually had their origins in Victorian times.

Christmas Cards

The Christmas card was born in 1843 when wealthy business man, Henry Cole, hired an artist to design a card for Christmas.  The artist drew a family around the dining table and it contained a festive message.  The cards were sold for an impressive one shilling each, putting them out of the reach of most ordinary people.  The expense meant that children were encouraged to make their own, before mass printing techniques in the 1880’s brought the price down.

To make your own Victorian Christmas cards, just follow these simple steps:
1 Create lace effect paper using strips of ordinary plain paper and cut out a scalloped edge.  You can do this via a template or draw your own.
2. Place a folded cloth under your paper to protect your table and then use a pin to make lots of tiny holes in your paper – this will give it the appearance of lace.  If children are making the cards, please ensure you supervise them.
3. Stick your ‘lace’ paper along the edge of a piece of white card.
4. Stick a Victorian picture onto the front of your card – or if you want to have a go at recycling you could use pictures from last year’s cards or cut them out from leftover Victoriana gift wrap.  Examples of the types of illustrations that adorned Victorian cards can be found from an original collection at the Library of Birmingham.
If you are unsure, you can also watch an instructional video by the BBC.

Christmas Crackers

In 1847, a confectioner called Tom Smith was looking for a new and inventive way to sell sweets with a bang.  He had discovered the sugared almond ‘bon bon’ in France and wanted to make it more popular with his customers in Britain, so he began by wrapping the bon bons in paper tissue with a love moto. The idea for the cracker was inspired by the sound of a log crackling in the fireplace. Tom thought that to combine the wrapped sweets and motto with a crackle would make them more appealing for Christmas.  He experimented with chemical compounds until he found one that made a bang when the paper was torn. The iconic cracker had arrived.

You can make your own crackers:
1. Take the cardboard inners of three small toilet rolls and measure out some tissue paper the same length as the cardboard rolls.
2.  Place double sided tape along one edge of the tissue paper, roll up the toilet rolls and stick down.
3. Roll up a second sheet of paper tissue that is slightly shorter than the first sheet.
4. Tie a ribbon at the neck of your cracker and remove the end toilet roll, then place a cracker snap inside, with double sided tape at both ends to secure it to the tied end of the cracker.
5. Place sugared almonds and a love motto in your cracker and tie up the remaining open end with another ribbon, sticking down the second piece of tape on your snap.
6. You can decorate your crackers with bows, pieces of fabric or Victoriana images.

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Turkey Dinner

Turkey was the meat of choice for upper class Victorians on Christmas day and it gradually replaced the more traditional choices of beef and goose, until by the start of the 20th century, it became the most popular seasonal dish.  You could opt for goose if you want to try something both traditional and different.
Charles Dickens described a Christmas dinner of roast goose with sage and onions, gravy, mashed potatoes and apple sauce in his famous novel, ‘A Christmas Carol’. It’s really easy for you to have the same.

1. Preheat your oven to the temperature suggested for your goose.
2. Remove giblets and excess fat from the cavity – you can use this fat to spread over the goose to enhance the cooking.
3. Stuff the neck cavity with sage and onions – slice your own onions to add to the mix as this tastes far more superior than packet sage and onion.
4. Pierce the skin with a fork, add a small amount of salt and pepper and rub butter into it. Place on foil on a meat tin in the center of the oven.  You will need around 2 hours, 45 minutes of cooking time for a 4.5kg goose.
5. Transfer to a serving dish and leave to stand for 20 minutes before you carve as this will retain more of the flavors.
6. Add home made mashed potatoes with butter and a spoonful of apple sauce.

 Christmas Trees

Pagans used to decorate fir trees in their winter festivals but the traditional of the Christmas tree began when Prince Albert got one for Queen Victoria. The Illustrated London News published a drawing in 1848 of the prince and Queen and all their children surrounding an elaborate Christmas tree decorated with candles, home made decorations and sweets. After seeing the drawing, the public followed suit.
You can go traditional by choosing a real Christmas tree and decorating it with handmade paper ornaments and sweets you can hang from the branches. If you want to go all out, you could even try real candles.

1. Get clip candle holders so you can safely attach your real candle to your tree
2. Don’t place any other decorations above your real candles
3. Always light your candles from those at the top of the tree down, so you don’t accidentally set fire to your clothes
4. Make sure you count the number of candles you place on your tree and what position they are in
5. Have candle snuffs and a fire extinguisher in case of an emergency
6. Only have your candles lit for short periods of time and never leave your candles unattended
7. For a safer option, you could use LED tea lights in your clip on candle holder – while not strictly Victorian, LED’s are a no flame light.

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Christmas Presents

Macy’s Department store in New York was one of the first to create a Christmas toy display in their window in 1897, the first time themed displays had been tried.  However, as toys were handmade they were expensive and out of the reach of most parents so the average Victorian child received a stocking containing fruit, nuts and if they were lucky, sweets.  You could try this by choosing a traditional knitted stocking (or knitting your own) and adding fruit and nut selections and some sugared bon bon’s.  You might want to include some back up presents too and diffuse any Christmas drama.

The Art Of The Gingerbread House by Guest Writer Evelyn Anderson

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Perhaps as far back as anyone alive can remember one of the most timeless traditions connected to Christmas has long been that of gingerbread decorations. This sweet and decorative holiday treat was first linked to Christmas by the beginning of the 17th century, when the ban on public production of the product was lifted only during the months of Christmas and Easter. Gingerbread quickly grew popular throughout Europe and spread into America, where it was cut and decorated into Christmas tree ornaments during the Victoria era. However, Christmas-time gingerbread is best known today for either the story of the runaway man made of cookie, or the delicious houses that were first made famous by the Brothers Grimm and their tale of Hansel and Gretel.

While it remains unclear whether or not the decorative abodes were a literary creation or not, what is certain is that for now, the tradition appears to be here to stay. From home-baked and assembled, to creative non-bake ideas from Martha, all the way to premade kits ordered from specialty shops online, making gingerbread houses can be one of the highlights of the season if you love crafts and also have a bit of a sweet tooth. The craft is also one of the best ways to occupy a group of children in the days directly leading up to their anticipation of Santa. Although any of the above ideas can be used to make for a great holiday activity, making your own has always been a bit of tradition around here and can add an extra bit of pride and fun to finished product. If you’re working with adults, it’s a great way to keep yourselves busy on a family holiday over the course of a couple days. If you’re working with kids, its best to get all the prep work out of the way early so they can dive straight into the fun of building.

Creating the Hardware

Just like a real house, the building blocks of any great gingerbread creation have to start from the ground up. This can be done easily in two steps (or in two days if you need the extra time).

The first step is to make the dough. This part can be tweaked and personalized to your taste and according to any family recipes of your own, but our favorite was inspired by the German gingerbread that’s a bit harder than other European varieties, which makes a perfect base for starting a house.

Ingredients:

3 1/2 cups self-raising flour
1 cup plain flour
1 tablespoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves or allspice
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
185g butter, chopped 
1 tbls water
1/2 cup honey
2 free-range eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup pure icing sugar

Whisk together the dry ingredients and set aside. Beat butter and brown sugar until fluffy then add in eggs and water until well combined. Slowly add dry ingredients with a wooden spoon, taken extra care to ensure over-mixing doesn’t occur. Freeze for up to an hour for manageability, then roll out on floured surface for shaping.

The second step is to create the patterns. Part of the fun of making your own house is to make the shapes and sizes, as you would like. Perhaps you’d like to make a mini-model of your own house, or maybe the kids would enjoy recreating a fairy-tale village? That’s all part of the fun! However, for beginners, or as a reference for a jumping off point, plenty of patterns are available online to print and glue to hard paper for tracing and cutting.

Bake pieces at 350 °F for 11-15 minutes for large pieces and 6-8 minutes for smaller sets. While still warm, trim the sides with a straight knife to create smooth, workable pieces. Lay aside to cool and dry for up to a day.

Putting it all Together

Finally, using 2 large egg whites and 3 cups of pure icing sugar, beat constantly until thick to create the royal icing; the glue that will keep all the parts of the house together!

Of course, after the hard work, the decorations are the fun part. This is also going to be the part that the kids love best. Prior to gathering them up, stock up on plenty of small chocolates, sugared goodies, and or even nuts and hard candies to make your creation appear as the house of your dreams. Again, each house can be as unique as you want and this is really the time to let the kids tap into their creative minds and play.

Last step: Show it off!

Written and Copyrighted by Eve Pearce