Published: 28-08-2012, 13:03

Christmas in Victorian England: Christmas Trees and Gifts

Christmas in Victorian England

Christmas in Victorian England: Decline

Christmas in Victorian England: Revival

Christmas in Victorian England: Christmas dinner

Christmas in Victorian England: Christmas Charity

Christmas in Victorian England: Protestants Embrace Christmas

Christmas in Victorian England: Christmas Carols

Christmas in Victorian England: Christmas Greetings and Entertainments

Christmas in Victorian England: Customs in Decline

At the beginning of the nineteenth century the English gave Christmas gifts, or boxes, to servants, the poor, and those who provided them with services during the year. Those who gave holiday season gifts to family and friends did so on New Year’s Day. In the early part of the nineteenth century, however, New Year’s gift giving appeared to be dying out. Two English folklorists writing in the 1830s remarked upon the ominous decline of the practice. In the Victorian era the English revived winter season gift giving, transferring the custom from New Year’s Day to Christmas. The Christmas tree played an important role in this transfer and revival.

Historians credit German-born Prince Albert for importing this German custom to Great Britain (see also CHRISTMAS IN GERMANY). A well-known 1840s illustration depicting Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, and their children gathered around the Christmas tree motivated middle-class families to adopt this custom. (Fashionable Victorians often sought to imitate royal tastes.) Like the Germans, English families covered their Christmas trees with good things to eat and small gifts. Hence, the tree focused everyone’s attention on giving and receiving. In addition, because it stood at the center of the household, the tree drew the exchange of Christmas gifts into the family circle. By the end of the century, Victorians customarily gave Christmas gifts to friends and family. New Year’s gifts had become the exception rather than the rule. Queen Victoria remained loyal to the old custom, though, still sending New Year’s, rather than Christmas, gifts as late as 1900.

While the Christmas tree grew in popularity among middle-class Victorians, many working-class families adopted the more affordable and convenient Christmas STOCKING. This custom, too, encouraged the exchange of small gifts within the family.

By the 1880s SANTA CLAUS had arrived in England. Unlike the English FATHER CHRISTMAS, Santa Claus brought gifts to children at Christmas time. By the end of the century the popularity of this American gift bringer prompted retailers to begin using his image to boost Christmas sales.

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