The Christmas we enjoy today is heavily influenced by the Victorians. From the stories we tell, through decorations, games and down to the food we eat, we have the Victorians to thank for many of our festive traditions.
This year at The National Archives we want to immerse you in the Victorian Christmas experience with our exciting programme of online events, so go ahead and stoke the fire, raise a glass of eggnog and enjoy!
To book any of these online talks, please visit The national archives events pages.
‘Christmas carol cards’, designed by T Sulman, registered by Benjamin Sulman, 1871. Catalogue ref: COPY 1/17/760
Cards, crackers and ‘A Christmas Carol’: The Victorian (re)invention of Christmas
20 November 2020 |Katherine Howells
While some festive traditions have ancient origins, most of the things we associate with Christmas today were actually created by the Victorians. The 19th century saw the introduction of the Christmas tree, the Christmas card and the Christmas cracker, and also witnessed the birth of modern Christmas consumerism.
The Victorians centred their Christmas traditions around the middle-class home and family and in particular the innocence of childhood. Christmas began to be imbued with feelings of nostalgia and sentimentality while at the same time encouraging charity and sympathy for those less fortunate. These developments were fuelled by the publication of successful Christmas carols, stories and poems, the most famous of which being ‘A Christmas Carol’ by Charles Dickens.
Join our Visual Collections Researcher, Katherine Howells, to learn how some of our most treasured Christmas traditions developed in the Victorian era. The talk will be illustrated with many fascinating visual records from The National Archives’ collections which help to chart the development of key Christmas customs.
‘Scenes from Dickens surrounding an oval bearing portrait of Charles Dickens’, designed by Reverend Charles Steele, registered by Stanley Arthur Ingram, 1911. Catalogue ref: COPY 1/563/39
Charles Dickens at Christmas
27 November 2020 | Frankie Kubicki
Come and join the Charles Dickens Museum’s Curator of Special Projects, Frankie Kubicki, as she explores Dickens’s Christmas through their world-class collection. Hear the story of the lost Turkey and learn the amazing circumstances under which his most famous book, ‘A Christmas Carol’, was written.
Lazenby’s Xmas Puddings & Mincemeat, 1905. Catalogue ref: COPY 1/233 (70)
Potatoes, Plum Pudding and Peacock: Eating with the Victorians at Christmas
4 December 2020 | Annie Gray
The Victorians are well-known for the reinvention of Christmas: moving it from an unfashionably drunken knees-up to a (sometimes) more sedate family celebration. But while we can give the era a grateful nod for the Christmas tree, carols and crackers, let’s be honest: it’s really all about the food.
Most of the foods we think of as Christmas fare were, for a long time, simply seasonal feast foods. But over the course of the Victorian period, plum pudding became Christmas pudding, Twelfth cake lost out to Christmas cake, and turkey started to triumph. In this illustrated talk, Annie Gray will take us on a tour through the Christmas tables of the rich, the poor and the doing just fines, to show how the Christmas dinner we love (or hate) today came about. You may even pick up some take-home tips.
Annie Gray is a food historian. She’s the author of ‘The Greedy Queen: Eating with Victoria’, among many other books. She’s also a panellist on BBC Radio 4’s The Kitchen Cabinet.
Tom Smith’s Christmas Tree crackers, 1907. Catalogue ref: COPY 1/259 (183)
Christmas document display films
This year we’re also creating some Christmas-themed films, where you can meet our record specialists as they show you some of the most interesting records from our collection which tell the stories of Victorian Christmas.
- Olivia Gecseg will explore the cosy (and sometimes dirty) world of the Victorian Hearth, drawing on some of our fascinating designs records.
- Chris Day will delve into Charles Dickens’s Christmas Carols and the author’s struggles with copyright law, as illustrated by our collection.
- Katherine Howells will uncover some of our beautiful artistic and advertising records which tell the story of the development of Victorian Christmas customs.