How Did Victorians Celebrate Christmas?

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The Victorians transformed Christmas from a fairly serious religious holiday into a festive celebration, popularizing Christmas trees, singing carols, feasting, sending greetings cards and giving gifts. The growing wealth of the middle class allowed them to spend the holiday season decorating, purchasing gifts and donating to charity.

When Queen Victoria married her German cousin Prince Albert in 1841, the Christmas customs he brought from his homeland provided the model for the Victorian Christmas. In 1848, the popular "Illustrated London News" published an illustration of the royal family celebrating around a Christmas tree, and doing so became an instant British tradition. Henry Cole invented Christmas cards in 1843, and Christmas crackers holding candy and confections became popular in 1848. The medieval tradition of decorating a home with evergreen branches became more elaborate, as the evergreens were bedecked with ribbons and arranged with the same care formerly given to flower arrangements. The British started giving traditional New Year's gifts at Christmastime instead, and the Christmas carol became a popular way to celebrate the holiday.

Charles Dickens captured this new seasonal mood in the popular 1843 novella "A Christmas Carol." The tale of Scrooge and the celebrations described in the story became the archetype for the Victorian Christmas celebration. Clement Clark Moore had published the poem "A Visit from St. Nick" in 1823, largely creating the character of Santa Claus as he is known today.