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!

An Evening of Lamplight: The Annual Lamplight Tour

For over two decades, the Annual Lamplight Tour has been a signature event at the Oshawa Museum, the unofficial start to our holiday season, and a staff favourite.


On Saturday, December 5, we invite you to experience an evening of Lamplight. Activites include costumed guides in Henry House, an Edwardian schoolroom, and photos with Father Christmas!

Father Christmas fun!
Father Christmas fun!

We are also excited to launch two new displays! The Gift of Play: Toys of Yesterday is open, showcasing toys from days gone by! Reminisce and remember your childhood through this exhibit, located in Robinson House.

The Gift of Play: Toys of Yesterday
The Gift of Play: Toys of Yesterday

Also in Robinson House is our latest engagement activity, our Winter Wonderland Selfie Station! Take a picture against the snowy backdrop; share it with us by hashtaging: #oshawamuseum

Don't forget to take a selfie!
Don’t forget to take a selfie!

The Annual Lamplight Tour is Saturday, December 5, from 6-8pm.
We hope to see you there!

We thank our 2015 Sponsors

Lamplight 2015 - 11x17


Memories of Lamplights Past

For over two decades, the signature event at the Oshawa Community Museum has been our Lamplight Tour.  Henry House, our traditional Victorian home, is lit with oil lamps, in Robinson House, the General Store exhibit is ready to party like it’s 1899, Father Christmas makes an appearance, and there is food, drinks, and music to be enjoyed.

OCM Staff took time to reflect on their favourite memories from the Lamplight Tour.

Laura Suchan, Executive Director
My favourite memories of Lamplight are of my children participating in the schoolroom activities.

Dylon, left, in 2004, and Tyler, right, in 2008.
Dylon, left, in 2004, and Tyler, right, in 2008.

Jennifer Weymark, Archivist
My memory of Lamplight was the year that (OHS Member) Don Sloman dressed as Father Christmas.

Don Sloman dressed as Father Christmas, 2000 Lamplight
Don Sloman dressed as Father Christmas, 2000 Lamplight

Melissa Cole, Curator
My favourite memories are the years that Anderson CVI students participated.  In Henry House, they dramatized the Henry Family getting ready for the wedding of Jennie Henry.

Anderson CVI Students, at 2004 Lamplight
Anderson CVI Students, at 2004 Lamplight

Jillian Passmore, Visitor Experience Co-ordinator
I don’t necessarily have a favourite memory of Lamplight, but to me, the smells of Henry House, from the greenery, to the cloves, and the lamp oil, help to begin the holiday season.  Lamplight is the beginning of Christmas.

Jillian decorating the tree in Henry House, 2009 Lamplight
Jillian decorating the tree in Henry House, 2009 Lamplight

Lisa Terech, Community Engagement
My favourite memories are of my first Lamplights, my first as a volunteer where I was in the General Store, and the first as a staff in the Henry House Kitchen.  Since 2010, I am the staff member in the Kitchen, and I love talking about preparing the plum pudding!

Preparing plum pudding, 2010 Lamplight
Preparing plum pudding, 2010 Lamplight

We hope that you’ll join us for this year’s Lamplight Tour and make memories of your own!
Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Month That Was – December 1864

During the month of December in 1864, Oshawa’s newspaper would display ads with the word Christmas incorporated as their main attraction. Companies such as Breminer & Urquhart and Murdoch brothers used Christmas as a way to sell their products and to raise their sales. Whether the products are foods or books, in December of 1864 the products became Christmas foods or gifts. Like today people would need to put their summer clothes away and start bundling up. While looking through the 1864 paper it was not hard to come across the companies who were selling cloths best suitable for the fall and winter seasons that would go for about 95 cents per yard. Some companies such as Wood & Bros would accept trades rather than a direct money charge. Not only was the Oshawa newspaper displaying ads on Christmas specials and seasonal cloths, it also displayed skates for sale so people could skate as a winter pass time. Skates were prided on being self adjusted and the companies would often increase the superiority of their skates by referring to them as exclusive. In the winter season the paper began publishing articles related to the season, such as the common cold. An article about the common cold was published in the paper December 7th, 1864. This article explained that colds were caused by one’s own carelessness and a way to explain how to prevent a cold was to stay away from a cool draft. The common cold was not yet identified in the 1860’s so for the people of the time there was still a lot of mystery surrounding this sickness. In conclusion December of 1864 would have been a time for advertising and sales, and a time of discovering the mysteries of effects that the changing of the season has on one’s self.


Here is a sampling of the headlines:


Oshawa December 20th 1864

Hurrah for Murdoch Brothers

A Merry Christmas and Happy New Year for all!

Murdoch brothers have received a splendid lot of layer, bunch, Valencia and Sultana Raisins.

Currants , Figs, preserved Ginger, preserved Peaches, Quinces, Candid Lemon, Orange, and Citron Peel, Soft Shell Almonds, Pickles, Sauces, Lobsters, Sardines, Chocolate, Cocoa, Choice Teas, Pure Coffee, And everything which can assist in making the Christmas Merry and the New Year Joyous.

Hurrah for Murdoch Brothers
Hurrah for Murdoch Brothers


Oshawa December 21st 1864

Books for Christmas

J.F WIllex, Bookseller,

Opposite the post office, Oshawa, has just received a new and assortment of Photograph Albums, Pew and Pocket Bibles. Also the Poetical works of Milton, Pope, Byron, Rurn Lougfellow, Cowper, Monigomery, Campbell, Coleridge and others in elegant gift bindings.


Oshawa December 21st 1864

Christmas- We hope all our friends will enjoy a merry Christmas. It comes on a Sabbath this year, but we understand that all business places will be closed on Monday, so that all hands may enjoy themselves as usual. Our advertisements columns contain a number of seasonable announcements.


1864 ad