We really have a lot to thank the Victorians for when it comes to the ways we celebrate Christmas in the UK today. No other period in history had quite the same influence on the festive season as the Victorian era did. Factors like the Industrial Revolution, which brought enormous wealth to the country, as well as the cultural influence of great author and social commentator, Charles Dickens had an awful lot to do with it. Many of our shows are set during this fascinating part of history - from Mrs Lovett’s Pie Shop and Sweeney Todd to Jack The Ripper - so read on as we find out more about the Christmas traditions that made this era so incredibly influential.
Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert was responsible for popularising the tradition of Christmas trees in England. This was partly due to the publication of an engraving in 1848, which featured the Queen and her family decorating a tree. Given the huge family-oriented culture of the era, it wasn't long before Christmas trees became a must-have in the Christmas celebrations of the middle classes. Originally a German tradition (Prince Albert was German) they were first adorned with candles, sweets and fruit. Worryingly flammable!
COFFIN MINCE PIES
Victorian mince pies contained mince, fruit and spices and were briefly cooked and presented in the shape of coffins. Victorians were known for being a morbid bunch but the coffins were actually only meant to represent the manger of baby Jesus and nothing more. The meat filling was gradually phased out to became the predominantly fruity one we know today.
The traditional Christmas crackers were first nicknamed "Bangs of Expectation". They were introduced in the late 1840s by the confectioner, Thomas Smith. He was inspired by the French way of wrapping bon-bons in brightly coloured tissue paper, slowly incorporating fruit, jewellery and little love messages into each cracker. It is said that the idea from the bang came from Smith being inspired by the crackle and pop of the log fire. The rest is Christmas history
ICE SKATING ON THE THAMES
Between 1309 and 1814, the river Thames used to completely freeze over and Londoner's would go ice skating on its surface. Stalls selling gin and skittle tournaments were also set up, while members of the public would glide along the ice on animal bones. Cool fact: in February 1814 an elephant was marched across the river alongside Blackfriars Bridge.
Christmas cards were invented by Henry Cole in 1843, and by the end of the century everyone was sending them. The widespread popularity of this was helped along by the introduction of the Penny Post which meant anyone - rich or poor - could send a handwritten letter for just one penny. The Victorians would put put dead birds, images of dead relatives and more on the front of their cards (classic Victorians) and by 1880 over 11 million Christmas cards were printed a year.
A CHRISTMAS CAROL
Charles Dickens was responsible for influencing many Christmas traditions in the Victorian era and his famous novel, A Christmas Carol had a huge influence on the way the public approached the day. Its strong message of good will; encouraging the rich to give to the poor, vivid descriptions of turkeys and festivities and the importance of family ties spoke to Victorian ideals and it's influence is still very much felt today.
Grab your tickets for the London Dungeon this Christmas HERE.