My Victorian Christmas | Baroness Bolsover
A very warm welcome to my Victorian Christmas recollections....
A Christmas Tree in November!
Firstly, can I say, I’m still recovering from the shock of seeing a Christmas tree in a house in November? In Victorian times we had to wait until Christmas Eve to put up our decorations!!! Mind you, we were beside ourselves with excitement by this time, so, I'm pleased to announce Baroness Bolsover will be following fashion from now on and putting up her Christmas tree when SHE wants! How liberating!
The Christmas Tree Tradition
As I recall, it was our dear Prince Albert who introduced the idea of a brightly decorated Christmas tree to us in England around 1840. And I’m so glad he did.
Anything to cheer up the gloomy, short dark days was welcome. The decorating of a pine tree was already a long standing tradition in Pagan culture in which the evergreen tree stands as a sign of renewal and hope that spring will one day return to the land… a sentiment which I often meditate upon to keep my spirits up and ward off the Winter Blues.
Mulled Wine with Afternoon Tea!
I’m delighted to see that Christmas Mulled Wine is offered on the shop shelves in the 21st century. However, you can’t beat making your own and that’s exactly what we Victorians did. You could put anything you like in it… orange, cinnamon, nutmeg, red wine, port, brandy and a spot of gin always went down well. Everyone drank gin back then. It was very cheap and so a good way to give a little kick to your mulled wine without spending too much.
We would offer a mulled wine at our Afternoon Tea Parties near Christmas… it certainly warmed up the spirits and got the gossip flowing even quicker!
Silent Xmas Crackers
Yes, I know, you’d be taking them back for a refund if they didn’t make a sound these days. But our original Christmas Crackers DIDN’T CRACK! UNBELIEVABLE but TRUE. They were just silent little parcels called ‘Kisses’ originating in France, containing bon-bons and a Love Poem, which young sweethearts would take great delight in pulling apart.
It was sweet maker Tom Smith, who was inspired to add the ‘Crack’ in 1847 on hearing the sound of his crackling fire. He thought it would be a great gimmick. Turns out he was right, and certainly spiced up the excitement of tearing apart our silent little parcels…and a paper hat to go with it these days…what more can I say?
We Invented the Mince Pie
As a young girl in the 19th century, I remember mince pies were quite literally, a pie made from minced meat, a tradition dating back to Tudor times. Then something strange happened. They began to shrink and taste sweeter.
I was told it was all the rage to add fruits and spices to the meat mixture for a truly ‘festive’ taste and before you know it the pies were ALL FRUIT AND NO MEAT. Quite extraordinary! Rather delicious though and by the time I became a mother the Fruit Mince Pies we know and still enjoy today were an established family favourite at Christmas.
And put Turkey on the Table.
Roast beef in the North and goose in the South had been a longstanding Christmas dinner tradition as turkey was very expensive back then. I remember being served beef at our first Christmas Dinner at Bolsover Castle, Derbyshire, in 1879. It was a welcome change from the goose we were accustomed to in London.
However, the Industrial Revolution saw great improvements in our transport system and brought the price of turkey right down which led to it becoming the most popular Christmas meal. Another tradition which has stood the test of time.
Costly Christmas Cards
We loved the invention of the Christmas Card by Henry Cole in 1843 but they were very pricey…. a shilling a piece! That was more than my weekly Tea allowance! Even Queen Victoria was not amused!
But the sentiment of sending a card caught on and advances in technology soon reduced the cost of card production. That, coupled with the introduction of the Penny Red Stamp (formerly Penny Black), meant they became hugely in demand.
The Penny Black stamp was the world’s first self-adhesive stamp (1840) which was very exciting for us, a stamp that you LICKED AND STICKED… ALL FOR A PENNY!
If only it were still available... I had to get out my smelling salts when I went to buy a stamp in the Post Office the other day!!!
We adored our parlour games. My favourite game was The Laughing Game, or as we called it The Smelly Sock game. Each person had to say the words 'Smelly Socks' without laughing. It may sound easy but give it a try. Look someone straight in the eye and say ‘Smelly Socks’ whilst keeping a perfectly straight face! It makes me smile just thinking about it. Charades, Blindman’s Bluff, Pass the Slipper and Pin the Tail on the Donkey were other favourites of ours.
Songs Around the Piano
No Christmas was complete without a sing-along. Jingle Bells was always fun to sing with the whole family even though originally the song, which was from America, had nothing to do with Christmas. We sang it in our parlours, and it came to be associated with winter and Christmas with imagery of Father Christmas dashing on his sleigh through the snow.
We of course ignored the fact that Father Christmas had several reindeers in his team, not a ‘One Horse Open Sleigh’ as the song was originally called.
And talking of Father Christmas, we called him Santa Claus which originates from Sinta Claus, Dutch for St Nicholas, who is said to have worn a red robe and thrown coins down chimneys to those in need.
The figure of a man with a white beard has many origins but it’s the same man who came to represent the delivering and leaving of gifts under the tree and for whom I always leave a mince pie, a fruit one of course, and a few carrots for his lovely reindeer…
Gifts at Christmas
And finally, there’s the Christmas shopping. I like to keep it the way it was, a simple affair with just one or two, often handmade, gifts exchanged. So I leave my beloved Bolsover Castle and head straight towards the Market Place in Bolsover where I find everything I need... including FATHER CHRISTMAS!
Bolsover Town Tours
Join me in the summer months for an unforgettable stroll through the historic streets of Bolsover Town. I'll tell you about my Royal connections, along with it's scandals, why I was made a Baroness, the shocking truth about my beloved Bolsover Castle and why I left Bolsover in such a rage!
'A truly memorable experience. A joyous day of gossip, trivia and fascinating facts delivered by a cultured lady.' TripAdvisor
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(Private Tours available, 2-8 persons)
The Ultimate Afternoon Tea Experience
Perfect for Parties, Afternoon Teas
Group & Zoom Talks, Special Occasions
Hotels and Events
'Simply Brilliant' Cup&Saucer
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Thank you so much for joining me and do take a look at my other Blogs... there's so much more to me than meets the eye! Until next time my friends.