Every year, in many homes up and down the country, families are having fun doing traditional Christmas things, many of which have been passed down through generations. As I child, my role was to always decorate the tree with baubles and ornaments that have been bought over a great many years. But where did these tradition begin? When did Christmas really come alive?
I love learning about history so I thought it would be a good idea to see how our ancestors have celebrated Christmas through the years. So lets start of with decorations.
In Georgian times, the upper class was the only people mainly to use decorations within their houses, with most using holly and ivy from their land. It was believed to have warned off evil spirits. The decorations also served to show guests how much wealth the household had. The more decorations, the more wealth they had. Georgian's didn't give presents, instead they went to church twice on Christmas day and had a feast thrown in the evening for guests. The feast included various meats and vegetables as well as Christmas pudding and mince pies. Georgian mince pies contained mince meat unlike todays version. It is thought that this died out due to it being a lot of expense to use mince meat when in fact you couldn't taste it due to the brandy.
After the feast guests would play games such as blind mans bluff before going home or up to their rooms to bed. Once all the guests had departed, the lord and lady would invite all the servants to share some Christmas cake with them. For the servants, no holiday was taken and it was just a normal day except they had more guests staying.
It wasn't until Queen Victoria's rein that the real magic of Christmas that we know today. A London newspaper printed an image showing the royal family all gathered around a large, decorated tree. The royal family were much loved by the people of England, therefore everybody wanted to be the same and so the Christmas tree was born. Decorations were gathered and handmade by servants in their spare time. Small candles were placed upon the tree and lit. However this led to a great many house fires, therefore this tradition soon died out and candles were soon only lit long enough for a family picture to be taken.
The new invention of the railway brought with it the birth of a quick and easy to use postal service. It meant that letters would take a couple of days to arrive instead of a couple of months. This then brought the idea of the Christmas card. People no longer had to write long letters, instead they could send a pretty card wishing the recipient well. It meant people had more spare time, with which they could spend with their families. Children received handmade toys and would spend the day playing with them.
Victorian's believed Christmas was a time for charity and thought it showed how great their household was. With this brought the tradition of singing Christmas carols.
Many wealthy Victorians became bored of eating the traditional goose for their Christmas feasts and instead many of them opted for the new highly expensive turkey. For the servants within the household, their Christmas day was much the same as it was in Georgian times, except one change... On Christmas morning at 10am the servants now ate a Christmas dinner. To them this was a luxury however they still had to work hard around the clock for their householders and guests.
Christmas as it was all changed instantly with the outbreak of the second world war. Food and clothes were rationed and even toys and presents that weren't on ration was extremely hard to come by. The war brought all classes together in the fight to victory. Whether you had money to spare or not made no difference, as without the relevant coupons you couldn't buy certain things.
Instead people had to make do and mend, recycling old items into something new. Children's toys consisted of cars made from spam tins, teddybears made from old felt and even catapults made from underwear elastic. Adults however received bonds and national saving certificates as gifts to use when the war was over.
During air raids, along with bombs, the Germans dropped silver bits of metal to reflect the fires more in the sky. These pieces of metal, when stringed together made Christmas decorations we now know today as tinsel.
So there you have it, many of the decorations/ traditions we use today have been carried out through the generations for hundreds of years. Things have been added with each new invention and evolved into the Christmases we have today. So why not create your own tradition? Maybe even recycle something old to make something new? Just remember Christmas is about sharing it with the people you love and care about, its not about how much money is spent on someone.