Brigid Downey

December 16, 2018

Historical Christmas | Blogmas 2018 Day 16

There’s something about the aesthetic of a Charles Dickens Victorian Christmas that I absolutely adore. I’ve talked on here a little bit about how much I love A Christmas Carol and Edaville Railroad’s Dicken’s Village. It gives me this classic Christmas feel that warms me in an unreal way. Maybe it’s me as a reader, but I love the feeling of historical fantasy it gives to the holiday season. Everything feels more magical and otherworldly. 

Victorian Traditions

Doing a bit more research into Victorian Christmas it seems to me like most modern Christmas traditions came from that era. One thing I never knew was that before the Victorian era people really didn’t celebrate Christmas in the UK. It was still a working day, but because of the technological advances at the time, Christmas changed. 

My sister and dad at Dickens Village at Edaville Railroad.

Things like Christmas crackers and stockings were brought to the UK around this time as well as the tradition of nuts and fruits being associated with the holidays. I’m excited because a lot of Josie’s family is Scottish so they have held on to their traditions. So this Christmas I’ll get to pop my first Christmas cracker!

To read more in-depth on the history check out this article I found here

German Influence

Queen Victoria’s husband was German so he was responsible for bringing over Christmas trees and the legend of Santa Claus from Germany. Being in Madison, WI this year there’s a lot of German influence throughout the town from immigrants, so it’s very interesting to see the influences in the culture out here compared to Boston. Not much is too different, but it’s a little more like the small town feel you see in Hallmark Movies compared to the big city feel that I’ve grown up in.

Technological Gifts

Toys in a Victorian shop in Dickens Village at Edaville Railroad.

In the Victorian Era the rise of factories and trains were on the rise as new technology emerged. This means that a lot more people were able to travel home to visit family and also toys were cheaper due to mass production. Traditionally, upper class children got hand made gifts in their stockings, but with the rise of factories middle class children were also given toys. Poor children were often given fruit and nuts in their stockings because they were normally very expensive, but at the holidays families would splurge for these little treats and that’s why we have chocolate oranges and chestnuts at the holidays now! 

On the topic of class structure, books like A Christmas Carol encouraged the rich to donate to poor families during the holidays and not be a Scrooge (see this is book related!)

Pagan Influence

As a pagan, I find the pagan influences very interesting. We celebrate Yule on the Winter Solstice (usually around Dec 21), but in my family, we also always did our big family celebrations on Christmas. Things from Yule that survived when the Christians took over were the Yule log, big feasts, and also things like holly, ivy and, mistletoe which were used to decorate to ward away bad spirits. (Maybe Scrooge should have tried that!) They survived through the Victorian era and still survive today mixed in with Christmas traditions!

(I’ll be doing a post about Yule on the 21st if you’d like to know more.)

Stoughton, WI, and Norwegian Culture

When Josie and I heard that Stoughton, Wisconsin was doing a weekend-long Victorian Christmas weekend we had to go. They had a craft fair and Santa danced with the kids, and they were supposed to have a horse and carriage ride, but it was raining so they didn’t do that. But one thing we really enjoyed was the Norwegian Christmas trees and immigrant museum. 

Where Madison has a lot of German heritage, Stoughton is steeped in Norwegian heritage. We walked down Main Street and ducked into shops that all boosted Norway from handmade Christmas Gnomes (which I’ve decided are my new favorite thing) to authentic holiday food. We had these little cookies that you’re supposed to press on and make a wish if they snap in three pieces your wish will come true! (Mine was the only one that was in three!) In the same shop, we sampled traditional glögg! 

The immigrant museum had artifacts that were donated by descendants of real Stoughton settlers which was probably the coolest thing ever! I noticed a lot of similarities between my Celtic heritage, so if you want a blog post on that let me know! Then for lunch, we visited the Viking Brew Pub which had delicious Norwegian food and a ship-shaped bar with a dragon! 

Santa’s Village and workshop at Edaville Railroad.

I’ve had so much fun exploring different Christmas traditions this year and reevaluating my own traditions and view of the world. So many of these little moments have left me in awe of the world around me and fascinated to know more about people and cultures and the history around me. It’s insane to me how other people’s cultures can affect me so much and make me feel just like Christmas, but also how connected everything is across time and distance. For example, A Christmas Carol means so much to me today, but it was the reason why some kids could afford gifts in the 1800s! 

This Christmas and in the New Year I challenge you to learn more about the people and world and cultures around you and then reflect on how knowing this information changes you as a person and what you know about yourself and your own heritage. 

I’ll be talking about my families Christmas traditions this Thursday so stay tuned for that! 

6 Comments on “Historical Christmas | Blogmas 2018 Day 16

December 17, 2018 at 12:28 pm

The history behind Christmas is so interesting! Especially the German influence during Queen Victoria’s reign which I didn’t realise. Such a great post x

December 17, 2018 at 5:10 pm

Thank you! Yeah the history lover in me has been soaking up this information like a sponge and I really needed to tell it because it’s all so cool!

December 23, 2018 at 2:47 pm

How interesting! A lot must have changed since Victorian times though, from what I know Germany – just like Poland – celebrates Christmas Eve, while the UK doesn’t.
Overall, how weird is it to think that there used to be no Christmas not that long ago! 😮

December 23, 2018 at 2:55 pm

Well, no Christmas in the UK. It did exist is Germany

December 23, 2018 at 2:59 pm

Well yes, I meant the UK. And just in general, there are still places which don’t celebrate Christmas at all – which is natural, they follow different religions. But seeing how huge this holiday is – commercially – in our culture, it’s quite hard to imagine that it’s not always been like this, and not everywhere.

December 23, 2018 at 3:36 pm

And rather recently it’s become what it is! I found that so intriguing!


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