Christmas is here, and however you choose to spend the festive season, the chances are you’ll adopt a lot of the customs and traditions we all know and love. Everything from sending out festive cards to feasting on the turkey (or the vegan equivalent) Christmas pudding and mince pies on the day itself.
Travel was a very exciting part of the Christmas experience in the past. Not always comfortable, but an exciting adventure for sure. Today we travel in the luxury of cars, warm and cozy, listening to our fav tunes or even watching a show. In yesteryear, that same trip, if possible at all, was made by horse and carriage or even open wagon. A visit usually lasted for much longer simply for the time it took to travel and the need for decent weather.
Before the Victorian era, gifts were given at New Year rather than Christmas and were on the modest side – usually consisting of handmade decorations and crafts, or nuts, fruit and sweets.
Women were only expected to give presents to men that they were either married or related to. These were expected to be of a more practical than intimate nature. Presents such as shaving kits and tobacco boxes were most popular.
Meanwhile, presents for women would depend on their social standing and marital status. These could include anything from soaps and perfumes to jewellery, flowers, and sweets.
While we might be familiar with a filling of dried fruit, candied peel, sugar and spices in our mince pies, it was a different story in the past. At that time, mincemeat did indeed contain meat.
While previous generations favoured meats such as lamb, veal, tongue and even tripe in their mince pies, minced beef was more commonly used; alongside the fruit and spices. Although, by the middle of the century, meat-free fillings had grown in popularity in certain sections of society.
Of course, Christmas dinner was more elaborate, depending on who you were. The Lords and Ladies across the pond settled down to a festive meal which would have included a roast swan or two as well as turkey. While turkey did appear on Christmas dinner tables here, it wasn’t quite as popular then as it is now.
Instead, people would dine on the likes of roast beef or game for their festive meal, while the goose was also popular – although that wasn’t cheap either unless you raised your own as many did.
And let’s not forget about the traditional plum pudding to round it all off.
Victorians used to be fond of playing parlour games on Christmas Day. Although it’s hard to say whether any of them might catch on in the modern era.
One popular game, Squeak Piggy Squeak, saw a player blindfolded and tasked with guessing the person’s identity squealing like a pig. While another, Throwing The Smile, required people to sit in a circle and go as long as possible without smiling.
Traditional games such as Hunt The Thimble – which involves hiding a thimble in the room and younger family members having to try and find it – were also popular on the day.
Another game, Snapdragon, involved filling a bowl with raisins and brandy and then setting it alight – with the winner being the person who could then eat the most raisins while the bowl was still on fire.
Somehow we can’t see that one getting past health and safety these days.
Unusual Christmas Customs.
The practice of ‘wassailing’ was among them –the house-visiting wassail, traditionally celebrated on Twelfth Night.
The house-visiting wassail would see participants going from house to house singing and merrymaking, as well as sharing drinks from the ‘wassail bowl’ – the drink in question being a warm, spiced punch often made with cider.
However you celebrate your family’s Christmas, please remember to take the day, enjoy the company, feast on the meal…and be safe. See you in the New Year.
Written By: Jane Laker
Photo/Design By: Veronika Kovecses
Let us know one of your favorite Christmas traditions in the comments!