A Victorian Christmas

By Jennifer Weymark, Archivist
This article was originally published in the Oshawa Express, November 27, 2015

Christmas was a time of celebration for Victorian families. Many of the traditions that we follow today were also a part of a Victorian Christmas celebration.

For example, it was Queen Victoria who popularized the German tradition of a Christmas tree and made it a part of the celebrations. The Queen’s husband, Prince Albert, brought the tradition of displaying a tree during the holidays from his native Germany. A sketch of the Queen and her family posed around a Christmas tree brought this tradition to the British people and it became a part of their holiday traditions.

The Queen's Christmas tree at Windsor Castle published in The Illustrated London News, 1848
The Queen’s Christmas tree at Windsor Castle published in The Illustrated London News, 1848

Victorians would place a small tree on top of a table in the parlour. It was often decorated with homemade paper ornaments, strings of popcorn, berries and nuts. Occasionally, the family would be able to afford a few ornaments bought from the store. Families also placed small presents on the tree in lieu of using wrapping paper, which was still expensive at that time. Christmas trees were lit with candles and families would places flags from their country of origin atop the tree instead of an angel or star.

The Christmas Tree in Henry House
The Christmas Tree in Henry House

Gifts of small toys or candy would be placed on the tree for the children to find Christmas morning. Perhaps, if the family was a little more affluent, slightly larger toys could be found under the tree. The children would be especially pleased to see a toy such as a Noah’s Ark under the tree. The reason for this was rather simple: a Noah’s Ark was a toy that could be played with on any day of the week.

The Victorians also enjoyed the tradition of wassailing during the holiday season. This would see them joyfully going door-to-door singing carols or offering drinks of spiced ale.

For more on Victorian Christmas, please check out Jenn’s latest podcast on our YouTube Channel



This is the last blog post for 2015!  We will post again in January 2016! From all the staff and volunteers at the Oshawa Community Museum, we wish you a very Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year!

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