You might think that Victorian Christmas traditions are dead relics of a bygone era, considering that they originated at least a century and a half ago. But the truth is, most of the Christmas traditions we enjoy today are directly rooted in Victorian customs.
Let’s take a look at a few.
While the Victorians didn’t invent Christmas cards (mailmen were complaining about delivering the things as early as 1822), they greatly elaborated on the tradition, adopting it with great vigor.
Children were often required to write Christmas cards for their parents in their very best handwriting, and their elders took to writing each other elaborate cards that required a great deal of time to complete. This strain on their schedules led to the invention of printed cards, which were widely used by the 1860s.
We haven’t stopped sending them to each other since, though electronic Christmas cards, delivered by email, are beginning to supplement the paper versions.
Singing and Santa
A traditional Victorian Christmas also including caroling, a long-repressed practice that the Victorians revived as Christmas began to become important again. We also have them to thank for one of our more enduring Christmas symbols: Santa.
Before the Victorians got ahold of them, folk figures Father Christmas and Santa Claus were just amusing legends, and separate ones at that. The Victorians rolled them into one and came up with the red-suited, right Jolly Old Elf who dives down the chimney to deliver gifts on Christmas Eve.
And, of course, Clement Clarke Moore’s poem “‘Twas The Night Before Christmas,” which became wildly popular during the Victorian Era, also had a lot to do with that.
The Victorian Christmas Tree
Another lingering Victorian Christmas tradition is the Christmas tree, an adoption of the German “Christbaum,” which Victorians popularized so widely that it’s hard to imagine Christmas without one these days.
They also promoted other traditions that had largely fallen by the wayside after the Puritans so thoroughly downplayed the holiday back in the 17th and 18th centuries. One of those practices was gift-giving. They made it more fun by piling the presents under the Christmas tree.
Perhaps the Victorians’ greatest contribution to Christmas tradition was the fact that they remade the holiday into a family-oriented celebration, centered around church-going, the Christ Child, and visits with friends and relatives. In doing so, their legacy has echoed down through the years.
Even today, Christmas is all about family and fun. While modern Americans may not celebrate Christmas quite the way our ancestors of a century or more once did, Victorian Christmas traditions set the pattern for our enjoyment of the Yuletide season.