St. Nicholas Tradition: "Father Christmas"
Highlighted Custom: Christmas cards & Christmas "crackers" (not the kind you eat!)
Following the intense scrutiny by the Puritans under Oliver Cromwell, Christmas celebrations in Great Britain were in decline. At the same time, the Industrial Revolution allowed workers little time for the holy days. But Christmas celebrations began to make a comeback in the mid 1800's, in great part due to Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, and... Charles Dickens!
Many of the Victorian-age Christmas traditions are still practiced today. In 1841, Queen Victoria's husband, Prince Albert, made popular the custom of decorating Christmas trees after he brought the idea to the British Isles from his native country of Germany. Victorian trees were candle-lit and decorated with fruit, nuts, candy, and roses.
It's Aunt Olga's Christmas Postcards, by Kevin Major and it's truly one of my favorite Christmas treasures. Anna’s Great-Aunt Olga has collected Christmas postcards all her life (she’s ninety-five years young). Aunt Olga takes advantage of a holiday visit from her favorite niece to share her memories and collection of antique postcards - she received her first from her brother when he was a soldier during World War I - and we, as readers, get to delight in her collection too! Decked out in red, Aunt Olga is ready for fun as she teaches Anna how to write her very own Christmas rhymes. Written with warmth and slightly quirky humor, this unique story shows how sweet a loving relationship can be between a youngster and an oldster.
Finally, it was in large part due to the works of Charles Dickens, specifically his masterpiece A Christmas Carol, published in 1843, that the joys of Christmas were rekindled in Great Britain. Below is Dicken's self described "Carol Philosophy":
"a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of other people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys."English poet Christina Rossetti was the author of many Advent and Christmastide poems. Her most famous, A Christmas Carol became a favorite Christmas hymn entitled In the Bleak Midwinter after it appeared (posthumously) in The English Hymnal in 1906, with a setting by Gustav Holst (and later by Harold Darke). It has been performed by choirs and soloists ever since, including the Robert Shaw Chorale, Chanticleer, Julie Andrews, Sarah Mclachlan, and most recently, James Taylor (who sings my favorite modern rendition). Click HERE to read my post about Christina Rossetti and listen to two beautiful settings of this hymn.
Christmas "crackers" - was developed in 1844 by Thomas Smith, an English candy maker who visited France and saw cosaques ("crackers") there. The French versions were sugar-coated almonds wrapped in squares of colored paper with each end tightly twisted. Upon his return to England, Smith began making crackers that contained candy, jokes, mottoes, and riddles. Still popular today, a cracker is placed beside each plate at the Christmas Dinner, ready for its tabs to be pulled as the anticipated "pop'' sound is followed by the emptying of its contents (trinkets, a paper crown, and riddles) by an eager child.
|Illustration of children pulling a cracker |
from ‘The Graphic Christmas’ 1878. [Image Source]
"Father Christmas", which are tossed in the fireplace. Legend has it that the smoke from them burning letters gets carried up the chimney directly to the jolly man in the red suit! J.R.R. Tolkien wrote a book about Letters from Father Christmas, that I posted HERE last year.
"Boxing Day", celebrated the day after Christmas, marks the beginning of the Christmas pantomimes (plays, such as "Cinderella" or "Peter Pan", which are performed for children). Boxing Day was originally a public holiday on which church alms boxes, filled with donations for the poor, were opened and the money inside was distributed. Today, people still give gifts of money to servants or other people such as postal workers, police, and newspaper vendors, who serve the public during the year.