A Little Christmas History
At the beginning of the 19th Century, Christmas was not widely celebrated. Many businesses didn't even consider it a holiday. Toward the end of the century, however, Christmas had surpassed all other holidays in importance. In 1848, the Illustrated London News published an endearing drawing of Queen Victorian and Albert gathered around the Christmas tree with their children. Shortly thereafter, every home in England decked their halls with candles, trees, sweets, homemade gifts, and candles. The first Christmas cards began appearing in the 1840s. At one shilling each, these missives were pricey for ordinary Victorians.
The age of industrialization in both Europe and America caused many to long for an earlier time where old and good values and wholesome traditions held sway. It also made them long for the ideal of a family gathered at the hearth. At this juncture of violent progress and nostalgia, Victorian Americans found in Christmas a holiday that ministered to their spirit.
Louis Prang, a German immigrant and astute reader of public taste, expanded the sending of Christmas cards to a grand scale. Prang, who owned two-thirds of the steam presses in America, perfected the process of chromolithography. By the 1880s the sending of cards had become hugely popular, creating a lucrative industry that produced 11.5 million cards in 1880 alone.
Gift giving had traditionally been at New Year but moved to Christmas. Initially gifts were modest and consisted of edibles and handmade trinkets that could be hung on the tree. However, as gift giving became more central to the festival, gifts became bigger and shop-bought.
This new 'revived Christmas' afforded a retreat from the harsh realities of Victorian life. American Christmases embraced the contradictory strains of commercialism with nostalgia–a combination that ruffled the feathers of puritanical theologians.
The Civil War intensified Christmas' appeal. The holiday's message of peace and goodwill spoke to the most immediate prayers of all Americans as well as those of homesick soldiers.
While Charles Dickens did not invent the Victorian Christmas, his book A Christmas Carol is credited with helping to popularize and spread the traditions of the festival. Its themes of family, charity, goodwill, peace and happiness encapsulate the spirit of the Victorian Christmas, and are very much a part of the Christmas we celebrate today.
Spread joy this holiday with one of our Christmas classics: