Monday, 21 December 2015

Dolly's planning a Victorian Christmas

Having looked at the Caganer and not really coming to terms with the connection to the Nativity, I wondered about our British traditions. Considering Christmas, we have a lot to thank the Victorians for, especially Queen Victoria and Albert, who having nine children, were very family orientated.  Before that time Christmas was very low key, in Britain and without any real traditions. Hard to believe when you think of all the excitement and hype around it now. So where did all the sparkle come from and why have we become so caught up in a Christmas that often has very little bearing on the Nativity. Recently I spoke to someone who said I absolutely love Christmas... But not the religious thing. I can tell you that made me smile and was probably the spark that made me think about it.  Now, I'm not going to get into the religious side of things either, that's for an individual to decide, however wasn't that the whole point to celebrate Christianity? made me wonder.

The Christmas tree: I think its become common knowledge that Prince Albert was born in Germany. The evergreen tree then decorated with candles, probably real as they didn't have the fancy little fairy lights, sweets and fruits was a German tradition, it was likely that he chose to bring that celebration into his own home. In 1848 The royal family were pictured around the family Christmas tree and from then on it became fashionable among the more wealthy. I imagine the Queen was a bit of a trend setter, well we didn't have TV celebs or sports personalities to follow. If it was good enough for the Queen, then lets all have one... if you were in the position to afford one, a bit of decadence. So you might think well what about the artificial Christmas tree, surely we had something to do with that? Well, no we didn't it was the Germans who developed the idea. The first wooden tree, a pyramid shape lit by candles was developed in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania by the German Moravian Church in 1747. In the 19th century artificial trees were made, using goose feathers, they became popular and tended to be dyed green, again created by the Germans. So for whatever reason we have embraced the wide variety of artificial trees, I think we can safely say the idea was German.
I love my artificial tree, its clean, it comes out every year, is still fit for purpose and I'm saving the planet, not chopping down trees... However not sure if it would be biodegradable if I had to discard it.  Not that I'm planning to anytime soon.

As much as I love the smell and appearance  of a real tree, some of the artificial trees are stunning and have improved over the years. This is the tree that currently stands proudly in the Algarve shopping area in Guia, Portugal. 

 This is Dolly's little tree, not much to say about that, I think she was disappointed not to have lights, and you may not see this clearly but she has the strangest bauble on the top, which makes it look more like an festive alien.
This is my old tree, not much to say about that either other than the fact that it has hidden treasures and memories that go way back.

The Christmas Cracker:  In 1848 Tom Smith a British sweet maker came up with the idea of a Christmas cracker, whilst visiting Paris. He observed some sugared almonds that had been wrapped in twists of paper. He was inspired and developed a cracker filled with sweets,(sugar almonds), the paper snapped apart revealing the sweets when the ends were pulled. During the Victorian era Mr Smith's Idea was adapted and by the end of the Victorian period the Christmas cracker was much the same as the ones that we now place on our dinner table... and don't we all love those paper hats. 

Christmas cards: In 1843 an artist was asked to make a card for Henry Cole, so that he could send it out for Christmas. The card featured a  Christmas message and a family sitting around a dinner table. Many wealthy Victorian families adopted the idea and were sending out their own cards. Making cards became a popular activity. There is some evidence that the Royal Children were encouraged to make there own cards as an activity before the festive season.The first printed cards were very expensive but the price came down significantly due to improvements in colour printing and technology during the Victorian era. in 1880 over 11 million Christmas cards were posted due to the halfpenny postage rate., which was established in 1870. With the price of stamps now so many people I know are donating the money to a charity of their choice. I still think its a nice gesture to send cards to people whom we seldom see, I couldn't imagine not sending a card to my elderly aunties' who don't sign in to social media sites. To them a social would have been a good old get together.

Not a great photo but you get the point. 

Christmas food:  Many of our traditional foods are attributed to the Victorians. The first mince pies were made with meat, a recipe that dated back to Tudor times. Later in the 19th century the recipe changed and were pretty much like the ones we eat today, with minced dried fruits.
Some Victorian families would celebrate the Christmas dinner with roast goose or beef, however it was the Victorian period when the roasting of Turkey became more fashionable and is still a recognised tradition. 

Victorians have had a tremendous influence on our current Christmas traditions but I think it is necessary to say that we are talking about the wealthy Victorians, the average person was lucky to have dripping , bread and vegetables. Often the food of the less fortunate was of a poor quality, quite frequently the food would be rotten leading to poor health and difficult growth in children. No fast food. I imagine many were happy if they had a meal, let along a good meal. How fortunate most of us are,.I say most of us because we still live in a world where people are less fortunate, starving, homeless and suffering poverty. 

I don't want to get deep into my own views about excessive spending during the festive season, however it makes me wonder why we do it... are celebrating Queen Victoria or the birth of Christianity? 

What never seems to change is the importance of family and friends, a time of giving of ourselves and sharing... do we need a special day to do that, surely we should do that all year. Although having a holiday period enables the coming together of people that might otherwise be working or living away from each other. 
Dolly's had plenty of fun with friends and on the lead up to Christmas I've found her entertaining at every opportunity. As soon as my backs turned she has friends sharing her space.

At this time of year we seem to focus more on the less fortunate. An accident or death always seems so much worse, and yet the reality is life is life, when every tragedy strikes. What is it about Christmas that heightens our senses?  
However you choose to spend your Christmas and what ever your thoughts are, make it a special day and a memorable one.

A very Merry Christmas to you all and a healthy and happy New Year. 

See you in the New Year xx


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