Skip to main content

What Was Victorian Christmas Like?

  • Author:
  • Updated date:

Victorian Christmas

Although mid-winter celebrations and festivals had taken place for centuries prior to the Victorian age, Christmas and its symbols and traditions did not really become commonplace until the Victorian era. Many factors influenced the way British people began to practice activities such as gift-giving, tree decorating and the sending of cards.

Victoria at her Coronation

Victoria at her Coronation

Where Did the Christmas Tree Come From?

Most historians agree that the Royal family played a huge factor in the development of Christmas celebrations. Trees and branches in some form had been used to decorate churches and homes for centuries, but it was with the introduction of the decorated indoor tree installed by Prince Albert in Windsor castle in the early 1840s that made decorating an indoor tree popular.

Indoor tree decorating was commonplace in Albert’s native Germany and he brought the tradition with him. An etching of the royal family was published in the Illustrated London News showing a happy family around the lit Christmas tree at Windsor, and it soon became an essential item for every fashionable Victorian home. Live trees were brought indoors and decorated with candles, ribbons, candies and paper chains.

Decorating the home also evolved, the use of evergreens continued but decoration was more specific, uniform and planned.

Activities for Victorian Tree Decorations


The Industrial Revolution's Influence on Christmas

The Industrial developments in Britain during the Victorian reign impacted the celebration of Christmas in two ways. The advances in factories and other industries brought great wealth to the middle classes who were able to afford to take time off from work on Christmas Day. Social reformers such as Charles Dickens encouraged those with money to give gifts to those who do not.

The development of technology enabled goods such as toys to be manufactured more cheaply. Prior to this most toys and gifts were handmade. This development made them more accessible to everyday people who could now purchase gifts to give to their children and family.

The invention of the steam engine and the railways made a big impact on travel and communication

The invention of the steam engine and the railways made a big impact on travel and communication

How Christmas Became a Family Event

The life of servants changed with the development of the Christmas celebrations. Traditionally, the day after Christmas Day was called Boxing Day, which was a holiday for servants. A day where employees gave their servants a 'box' with a gift or a bonus.

It was also a day when Churches emptied their collection box and distributed the contents to those in need. Many servants had moved from rural areas to towns and cities to find work. This often meant they were far from home and were not able to travel home to visit family in the short time they were given off work.

The development of the railway made this travel more accessible and consequently, Christmas became more of a family event, where people travelled to be with their loved ones.

The penny black postage stamp made mail accessible to more people

The penny black postage stamp made mail accessible to more people

Where Did the Christmas Card Come From?

At the beginning of Victoria’s reign, sending letters and cards by mail was generally not accessible to everyday people due to the cost involved to send a letter and the time it took to be delivered. In 1843, Sir Henry Cole took advantage of the new penny stamp introduced to develop a Christmas card. He sold the cards in London, the sketch including a Christmas scene and poor people being helped with food and money.

Scroll to Continue

Read More From Owlcation

This was to encourage those to have to give to those in need. The sending of cards took off, both homemade and commercially produced, and the introduction of the halfpenny post in 1870 helped to develop this tradition further. The introduction of the railway system also meant that post could reach more places at a quicker speed. The sending of Christmas greetings became popular and is still is today.

Why Do We Eat Turkey on Christmas?

Turkeys had been in Britain several hundred years before Victoria came to the throne but were considered a meal for the upper classes. Both chicken and turkey were very expensive and for the poor classes, a rabbit would have been the meat available to them.

At the beginning of Victoria’s reign beef and swan were the meal of choice in the royal palace. In London goose was eaten by those with money. As turkey became popular with the royal household, others followed suit and it evolved into a popular dish at Christmas time.

In A Christmas Carol, written by Charles Dickens, the character Scrooge called for the prize turkey to be fetched from the poulterer. This emphasizes the fact that a turkey was considered an expensive treat, that Scrooge with lots of money can afford the best. On the other side of this, the Cratchits have a goose described as cheap and eked out with applesauce and mashed potatoes. A special treat for the family.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

The title page of A Christmas Carol illustrated by John Leech

The title page of A Christmas Carol illustrated by John Leech

Social Reform and Christmas Charity

During this time there grew a greater awareness of social inequality and the need for reform. Influential people such as Charles Dickens wanted to make the upper classes more aware of the plight of the poor and mobilized them into doing something to help. In his book A Christmas Carol published in 1843 Dickens hoped to highlight the plight of the poor in Victorian Britain, in fact the book helped establish the idea of Christmas charity. It became one of the most well known stories associated with the celebration of Christmas and good will, its popularity making Christmas a time of family and giving to those less fortunate.

Introduction of the Christmas Cracker

The Christmas cracker was invented by the confectioner Tom Smith. He wanted to invent a new way to sell his sweets. He experimented with wrapping sweets similar to the way bonbons were wrapped in France and came up with the cracker. Initially filled with a sweet, the design evolved into including a gift, paper hat and a love note or joke. The cracker has become a staple of the modern Christmas dinner.

Gift Giving

The giving of gifts had traditionally been in the new year. The industrial developments in manufacturing goods and the new Victorian idea of giving gifts at Christmas became popular. Gifts that were previously homemade trinkets and food treats were increasingly replaced with bigger gifts and moved from tree decorations to under the tree.

Christmas Caroling

Christmas singing had always been enjoyed in Britain but became increasingly popular in the Victorian Era. Victorians enjoyed the musical entertainment involved in caroling and people of all ages got pleasure from singing.

The Victorians had a big impact on the development of the Christmmas celebrations as they stand today. During the Victorian era it became a time for family, gift giving, celebration and charity.

Sources and Further Reading

© 2014 Ruthbro


Sara Copley on December 20, 2015:

I used to love making Christmas Crackers! Thanks for the great hub, I really enjoyed reading it!!

Ruthbro (author) from USA on January 01, 2015:

Thanks Digital MD!

LM Gutierrez on January 01, 2015:

Little history won't hurt. A great read for those wondering on roots of those practices. Very informative article!

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on December 27, 2014:

All comments made so far add to my knowledge. Thank you all.

Ruthbro (author) from USA on December 24, 2014:

I agree, thanks for reading!

nanderson500 from Seattle, WA on December 24, 2014:

Very interesting! I hadn't known that Boxing Day started as a day for servants. It's interesting how technology has influenced how Christmas is celebrated.

Ruthbro (author) from USA on December 24, 2014:

Thank you!

Ana Maria Orantes from Miami Florida on December 24, 2014:

Congratulations miss ruthbro. I like your article about Christmas many years ago. It is the same tradition. Except these present days, the Christmas ornaments varies in desing , and the material is different. They are factory made. Thank you for sharing your knowledge of the past christmas time. Congratulations on the hub of the day. I like the Victorian decoration.

Ruthbro (author) from USA on December 24, 2014:

Thank you

Agustin Lias from 2222 Fillmore St, Hollywood, Fl. 33020 on December 24, 2014:

Congratulations! You've written an excellent article for a very special occasion. I've disfrutado lot. It is difficult to write about too familiar topics, but you have done it very well. You have added new elements and others few acquaintances. You have done it in a very intelligent way. I congratulate you again, and I wish you much success.

Ruthbro (author) from USA on December 24, 2014:

Thank you!

Ruthbro (author) from USA on December 24, 2014:

Thank you suzettenaples and SusanDeppner! It was an interesting one to research,

Suzette Walker from Taos, NM on December 24, 2014:

Congratulations on HOTD! Well done and I enjoyed reading this.

Susan Deppner from Arkansas USA on December 24, 2014:

Very interesting history! Love the artwork, too. Merry Christmas and congratulations on your seasonal Hub of the Day honors!

Ruthbro (author) from USA on December 24, 2014:

Thank you teaches12345, it is often surprising where traditions originate.

KMSplumeau thanks for stopping by Merry Christmas to you!

Miebakagh57 I agree the giving to the poor was an important part of victorian Christmas.

Aesta1 thanks for stopping by, it is a very interesting period of time!

mySuccess8 thank you for your lovely comment.

Kay Plumeau from New Jersey, USA on December 24, 2014:

Lovely article! I'll be sure to share it with others for the holiday. I never knew so many of our traditions came from the Victorian era as people tried to imitate the British Royalty. Thank you so much for writing this, and Merry Christmas!

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on December 24, 2014:

If we think Xmas in terms of giving, eating and merrymaking, the essence is lost. As trees, flowers and the vegetation begin to shed their old essence for a new one, so much for xmas. One thing more I like in the story is how it was advocate to help poor persons, not to live in affluence.

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on December 24, 2014:

I am just reading about the Victorian period in England so your hub got my attention. It is an interesting time and so many stories have been written about it. I enjoyed, in particular, how they celebrated Christmas so thanks for your hub.

mySuccess8 on December 24, 2014:

Well-researched and rich in history, making this very interesting. Congrats on Hub of the Day.

Dianna Mendez on December 21, 2014:

This was an interesting post and very educational. I found new facts and enjoyed reading about the Christmas cards.

Related Articles