Christmas is a special time for families in the United Kingdom to come together to celebrate the season and wait for the arrival of Father Christmas.
Our family has always enjoyed learning about the origins of holiday traditions. Our holiday history lessons always seem to include a “visit” to the United Kingdom because many of our favorite holiday activities date back to the Victorian era in British history (mid to late 1800’s).
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In 1837 Victoria became queen at the age of 18. During Queen Victoria’s 60+ year reign the British Empire grew and flourished. Many political and social reforms took place during this time and these years became know as the Victorian period.
Many of our favorite holiday traditions find their roots in the Victorian Christmas including Christmas cards, Christmas Crackers, and the story “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens.
The idea for the first Christmas greetings cards came from Sir Henry Cole in 1843. Cole was interested in finding a way to encourage citizens of the UK to use the new public postal system. He asked his friend, John Horsley, who was an artist, to design a greeting card that people could send to their friends at Christmas via the post office.
Although many people liked the idea of sending greeting cards to friends and family it took a few years for the practice to become popular. The cards, as well as the postage, were initially rather expensive. By the 1870’s cards were produced in larger numbers, and the cost of posted dropped by half, making it affordable for more and more people to participate in the tradition.
Many Victorian Christmas cards included snow scenes, Christmas trees, or Nativity scenes.
To celebrate the season you can print your own Victorian Christmas Cards.
Although printed Christmas cards remained popular, by the early 1900’s handmade Christmas cards became very popular. My kids have always enjoyed making their own greeting cards for family and friends because they can be personalized with stickers, ribbons, and drawings, etc.
Christmas crackers are a favorite holiday surprise for children of all ages!
The first Christmas cracker was made around 1850 by London candy maker Tom Smith. Tom was looking for a creative way to sell his sweet treats so he wrapped them (along with a small paper with a riddle or inspiring notes) in pretty paper. He thought children would enjoy opening the special surprise…but unfortunately the idea didn’t become as popular as Tom had hoped.
After a few years of thinking of a way to make the Crackers more appealing he had the idea to add a “crack” sound when the wrapping was open. Tom experimented with different chemical reactions and eventually found one that was safe and created a fun “pop” sound. Now, when the crackers were opened, with a “pop” the wrapping would pull away from the tube and candies and small gifts would pour out.
Crackers became very popular and customized crackers were created by To m and his family to celebrate events throughout the year.
Christmas Crackers are still very popular. These small colorfully wrapped tubes are often places next to plates at the Christmas dinner table.
It is easy to make your own Christmas Crackers!
I remember my mom making these for my class Christmas party when I was in elementary school and we have made them with our kids for co-ops and holiday parties. *Notes – these crackers will NOT have the traditional “pop” because we aren’t using any chemical reactions, but they will still be a fun surprise for kids! *
- Cardboard tubes (toilet paper tubes, or paper towel rolls cut into 3 pieces)
- Wrapping paper or Tissue paper
- Tape & Scissors
- Small wrapped candy
- Hand written holiday notes/riddles or small toys (optional)
- Cut paper to 3 times the length of the cardboard tube (our tube was 4 inches long so we cut the paper to 12 inches long).
- Center the tube on the paper, tape one side of the paper to the tube, roll the paper around to cover the tube and tape the other edge.
- Use ribbon to tie around one end of the tube.
- Place candy/treats in the tube.
- Close tube by tying a ribbon around the other end of the tube.
A Christmas Carol
Our Christmas season would not be complete without at least one encounter with Ebenezer Scrooge and Bob Cratchit.
The tale “A Christmas Carol” was written by Charles Dickens in England in 1843. Many believe this work by Dickens did a great deal to highlight the many Christmas customs that began to take root in Victorian England including Christmas trees, singing carols, Christmas cards, and more.
A Christmas Carol is a true holiday classic – the book has never been out of print and over the years it has been transformed into cartoons, movies, and plays.
When my children were young we watched Mickey’s Christmas Carol over and over! (The Muppet version was also a hit in our house). There have been many other film adaptations of the story but in recent years we have enjoyed attending local theater productions of the story. Of course you can’t beat reading the classic Dickens novella – it is a wonderful family read-aloud during the holiday season!
Here are a few more resources to help your family celebrate a Victorian Christmas:
Victorian Christmas Unit Study – 25 day unit study with crafts, recipes, movie and literature suggestions, research questions, and more.
Victorian Christmas Tree Ornaments – Tips and templates for making festive paper chains and cornucopias to decorate your Christmas tree.
Victorian Christmas Dinner Menu & Recipes – Including roast goose, mincemeat, Christmas pudding, and more.
Magic Tree House A Ghost Tale For Christmas Time Lapbook – 2 Complete Lapbooks based on the book by Mary Pope Osborne. Learn about Victorian England, Queen Victoria, the city of London, the Industrial Revolution, chimney sweeps, Charles Dickens, and some of the books he wrote.
A Christmas Carol Lapbook – A Literature Based Study of the Novel by Charles Dickens Project Pack from In the Hands of a Child.