Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Something Interesting...

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a bit of a history nut, so this article from Craftlovers hit the spot for a bit of historical Christmas trivia.  Thought you might enjoy it too.

                                                                  Copyright free Image courtesy of the Graphics Fairy

"When we think back on the Victorian era we picture opulence, clutter and gracious living. Lavish decorators and passionate collectors, the Victorians gave us the sewing machine, the crazy quilt and the urge to embroider anything that isn’t nailed down. They also gave us Christmas.

Christmas, or ‘Mass of Christ’, has been celebrated on the December 25 since the 4th century. Throughout Europe and America it was a time for feasting, exchanging gifts and coming together to celebrate, until the holiday was outlawed by the Puritans in 1552. The law was eventually overturned by King Charles II, but the holiday never really regained favour until Queen Victoria took the throne in 1837.
Her husband, Prince Albert, was German and when he moved to England, he brought with him the deep love of Christmas so common in his country. In 1841 he decorated a large fir tree for Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle and the holiday was reborn.

The Victorians loved the idea of a Christmas tree, and soon one could be found in every home. They decorated them with gingerbread men, cookies, candies, fruit, cotton Santas, paper ornaments, candles, pine cones,
small toys, chains of popcorn, anything small enough to hang from a branch was used to make the tree colourful and bright.

Cornucopiae, which translates literally as ‘horns of plenty’, were a very popular ornament. Made from paper twisted into small cones and lavishly decorated, they were filled with all manner of sweet, dainty things and were hung from the tree for the children to find on Christmas morning.

Electric fairy lights, still one of our most popular decorations today, were invented during this time. For many years people had adorned their trees with candles, resulting in some devastating fires. Thomas Edison’s glowing globes were much safer and the sight of the twinkling lights through a parlour window must have been a heartening one on a cold, winter’s night in England.

A typical Victorian Christmas day began with the family attending Mass. This was followed by a grand dinner with all the trimmings. For inspiration when planning her feast a lady never had to look very far – magazines and newspapers were packed with advice on how to prepare the perfect Christmas meal.

A popular periodical at the time, Godey’s Lady’s Book recommended a menu featuring raw oysters, clear soup, fried smelts, sautéed potatoes, peas, sweetbreads, turkey, cranberry sauce, salad, roman punch, croquettes, crackers, cheese, pudding, macaroons, fruit and coffee. After all that it was a wonder the revellers had the energy for anything more than a quiet nap on the couch! But no, after the meal came the serious business of exchanging gifts.

The ideal gift was the result of months of careful work and planning. The Victorians considered it far better to give something made with your own hands than to buy something from a shop – and again the magazines and journals were quick to offer suggestions. An apron for mother, a scarf for father, for sister, a muff or ribbons for her hair and for grandmother, a pincushion ‘pretty enough to hang on the tree’. A pamphlet released by Harper’s Bazaar in 1879 entitled ‘Christmas Presents for Gentlemen’ recommended that a woman give that special man in her life a handkerchief hemmed and embroidered with her own hair. It said ‘Gentlemen do not care for the pretty trifles and decorations that delight ladies ... What, then, shall she give? Here is the woman’s advantage. She has her hands’.

Finally, the family, decked out in their brand-new embroidered slippers, aprons and suspenders, gathered in the parlour for carols and games.  Carolling was an ancient custom that had died out before the 19th century, but the Victorians loved it and revived the old tunes, as well as penning many new ones. In front of the fire, or in groups going from door to door, they lifted their voices in song, bringing festive cheer and comfort to all who heard them.

The Christmas card and cracker were two more inventions of this time. The Christmas card was the brainchild of the director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, Sir Henry Cole. He had a very large circle of acquaintances, and asked artist John Calcott Horsley to design him a card he could use to send out Christmas greetings.  The card depicted a family party in progress and bore the inscription ‘A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You’. The idea caught on very quickly and soon everyone was making their own cards, as well as buying manufactured ones by the thousands.

The Christmas cracker was invented by a confectioner named Thomas Smith. While sitting in front of his fire one day, a jet of resin from a log burst into flame with a resounding ‘crack’. Deciding this would be a great novelty for Christmas, Smith designed a log-shaped package, holding a bonbon and a motto, that made a loud bang when pulled apart. By the end of the nineteenth century his company was producing 14 million crackers a year.

From cranberries to candles, the Victorians loved everything about Christmas and it is thanks to their enthusiasm that we have it to celebrate today. So even if you don’t fancy a handkerchief monogrammed with human hair – sing a carol, sign a card and steal a kiss under the mistletoe for good luck."

P.S.  You have to know the past to understand the present.” Dr Carl Sagan

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