Christmas During The Victorian Period

December 12, 2021

We have not always celebrated Christmas the way we do today; it may be hard to believe that for a long time there were businesses that did not recognize it as a holiday. Of course, now those businesses start to celebrate it around Halloween. Not so long ago, during the Victorian period, many of our Christmas traditions began to emerge.

The family gathers around the tree for a family Christmas photograph. (Photo by Kirn Vintage Stock/Corbis via Getty Images)/Colorized

The celebration of midwinter festivals has been around for thousands of years, and these pagan festivals began to morph with Christmas after the arrival of Christianity. One of the early festivals was the festival of Saturnalia, which honored the Roman god Saturn. During Saturnalia, gifts were exchanged, singers took to the streets to sing, and people baked cookies that looked like men (although the first documented gingerbread men were created in the Elizabethan age). Christmas celebrations continued in England until Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans outlawed it in 1645. The attitude about Christmas spread to the English colonies with the Puritans, where, in some places, celebrating Christmas was a crime. In contrast, in Virginia, people saw Christmas as a time to feast, dance, hunt, and visit with each other, just as they believed was done customarily in English manors.

Christmas Trees In America

The family gathers around the tree for a family Christmas photograph. (Photo by Kirn Vintage Stock/Corbis via Getty Images)

The Germans brought their tradition of decorating with evergreens to America; additionally, individuals who had visited Germany and had seen German Christmas celebrations decided to recreate those traditions, including the use of the Christmas tree. This tradition was adopted in America about the same time that it became popular in England. By the 1850s, the custom had spread from New England and began to extend throughout much of America. Mack Carr, a woodsman, has been credited with opening the first Christmas tree lot in 1851. Just as German immigrants brought the tradition of Christmas trees, Catholic immigrants brought the tradition of using a nativity. By 1870, Christmas, which was once illegal in some parts of America, was declared a federal holiday.