The Ladies' Tea Guild

Monday, December 8, 2008

Make your own Victorian Christmas decorations! (Part 1)

Image from Godey's Lady's Book, 1860,
During the Victorian era, Christmas and New Year’s traditions began to become more standardized across Western Europe, Canada, and the United States of America, influenced by the popularity of Queen Victoria and the economic, political, and social power of English practices. Christmas was generally celebrated with family, and other social entertainments were often saved for New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. Many traditions originated in Germany and would likely have remained popular only among those of German ancestry, without the influence of the Queen in deference to her German relatives and her husband, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.

One such tradition was the use of the Christmas tree. The German Christmas tree has origins that reach back to the 15th century, at least: the German theologian and reformer, Martin Luther, is said to have enjoyed a solitary walk in the woods one snowy night, brought home an evergreen tree, and decorated it with tinsel stars and lighted candles, to give the effect of stars and moonlight shining through the forest, for the entertainment of his family. Pre-Christian Germanic and Celtic cultures also venerated certain trees as symbols of fertility and life. From the mid-18th century, with England’s kings being raised in Germany, certain German traditions – like Christmas trees -- had already entered the country, but did not become popular outside the nobility.

When re-introduced to English society, in 1841, by Prince Albert and Queen Victoria, the tradition still reflected that simple memory. Engravings of the royal family around their tree, from the 1860s, show a relatively small tree, perhaps 4 feet tall, standing on a round table, its branches rather sparse by modern standards, the spaces being filled in by homemade ornaments and small lighted candles. These engravings, however, were published in the newly-popular magazines and newspapers of the day, and were largely responsible for making the tradition widely-known both inside and outside England.


Kim said...
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South Bay Ladies' Tea Guild said...

Yes, if you're at all artistic or crafty -- or you want to be -- simple decorations are really do-able. You don't have to be elaborate; rustic things can be "Victorian", too, if they have the right style! And with so many neat scrapbooking papers out there, it's easier than ever.

Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast,
Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round,
And, while the bubbling and loud-hissing urn
Throws up a steamy column, and the cups
That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each,
So let us welcome peaceful evening in.
-- William Cowper (1731-1800)
"The Winter Evening" (Book Four), _The Task_ (1784)