No era had as great an impact on the way in which we celebrate Christmas today as the Victorian period. The traditions that were first exemplified during this time have been passed on from generation to generation and are still practiced worldwide.
In fact, many of the traditions adopted in this era are related to the creations of popular writers and poets of the period such as Charles Dickens and Clemment Moore whose poem, "The Jolly Old Elf" is responsible for the depiction of Santa Claus.
1. Christmas Day
Christmas day and the following day, first became holidays during the Victorian era where the middle and working class were given these days off as holidays. This was especially significant with regards to the industrial revolution that was taking place during this time where many city workers from the countryside used the two days to visit their families, instituting new traditions.
2. Boxing Day
It became common practice for the wealthy to provide their servants and employees with gifts or Christmas boxes on their holidays. These boxes were commonly opened on the day after Christmas resulting in the official name for the holiday becoming 'Boxing Day'. While this name is still commonly applied to this holiday, many countries have started referring to the day after Christmas as 'Family Day'.
3. The Christmas Tree
Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's husband, brought the tradition of placing a tree in the home during Christmas from Germany, his homeland. The tradition was quickly adopted by aristocracy and passed down to the lower classes.
4. Christmas Gifts
Gift giving before and during the early Victorian period had little to do with Santa Claus or Father Christmas. Historically, gifts were given to celebrate the new year and the tradition slowly became part of the Christmas celebrations.
This tradition first started with the wealthy hanging small gifts for their children from the Christmas tree. As the gifts grew bigger, they were placed under the Christmas tree, leaving room for decorations.
The working class, who could not afford gifts, filled stockings with dried fruit and nuts that were to be eaten by their children on Christmas day. However, the industrial revolution soon made it possible for these people to purchase inexpensive toys for their children. Today, gift giving includes friends and family members of all ages.
5. The Christmas Card
The first Christmas card was the idea of Sir Henry Cole who commissioned an artist, J.C. Horley, to design and paint an appropriate depiction of Christmas. He printed 1000 cards which were quickly bought by the wealthy starting a tradition which became a very lucrative industry.
However, Christmas cards popularity lay not only in buying and sending these items, but in the ability to create a personal Christmas card. Queen Victoria was well-known to encourage her children to take part in this fun pass-time.
6. Christmas Carols
Like so many Christmas traditions, caroling was about making money or being offered a warm drink or meal on a cold night. Carolers, usually in groups of three, would frequent the shopping districts in the hopes of selling sheet music to passersby. The trio was composed of a singer, a violinist and a salesperson.
Christmas, the festive season and the holidays would simply not exist without all the specific events that took place during the Victorian era. However, the development of these traditions had very little, if nothing, to do with the religious aspects of the holiday. Rather, the industrial revolution is responsible for these events becoming traditions and the ability of one and all to spread good-will during the season.