Victorian Yorkshire Christmas Traditions

Interesting Christmas Traditions

  • Victorians were very nostalgic and thought Christmases just weren’t what they used to be.
  • Victorians were known to complain Christmas was becoming too commercialised (where have we heard that before?)
  • Bringing in the Yule log and Kissing the bough were pre-Victorian customs. Kissing the bough was popular in Yorkshire where a ball of evergreens with candles and mistletoe was used as a home decoration.
  • Christmas Day became a public holiday in 1834. In 1871 Boxing Day became a holiday to reflect the time when staff and tradesmen were given a ‘Christmas Box.
  • Good King Wenceslas and Once in Royal David City are two Christmas Carols that were written in Victorian times. Many other traditional carols were revived as the Christmas festivities grew in social importance.

Otley Victorian Fayre 6th December 2015

Preparations are in full swing for the 30th Otley Victorian Fayre. More stalls than ever will be groaning with Christmas goodies for you to buy and eat. Traditional street organs will play their catchy music, dance troupes will perform for your enjoyment, local schools and adult choirs will sing carols on the stage.

The children can enjoy Punch and Judy shows, traditional fairground rides as well as visit the Lion’s Santa’s grotto in the market place. Every year more and more people join in the fun by dressing in Victorian costumes.

As darkness falls there will be a fabulous lantern parade through the town organised and run by Otley Courthouse.

Kirkgate Examiner York

The Castle Museum York generally celebrates Christmas with several seasonal exhibits and an interesting issue of an eight page newspaper highlighting ‘a taste of Victorian Christmas’.
New Years Eve and New Years Day were the key times for family get togethers, celebration and for present giving. It was the Victorians that helped reinvent Christmas and replace New Years Day with Christmas Day in the affections of the British families.
From the 1700’s Germany had used trees as a focal point and Christmas decoration but it wasn’t until 1848 that Prince Albert brought the tradition to England. He actively promoted the shaped tree with its fir like branches called in German a Tanne or Spindlebaum.


Christmas Decoration Traditions

  • Using Evergreens like Holly and Ivy are traditions that date back to pagan times.
  • Mistletoe has fertility and love connotations and was used to decorate Victorian houses and provide a place for a Christmas kiss.
  • Glue paper chains and twists of coloured crepe paper were introduced by Victorians
  • Candles were eventually replaced with electric light bulbs and now we have leds and other bright lights.
  • Holly wreaths are said by the york Kirkgate Examiner ‘to be a charming transatlantic custom’ imported from America.

Christmas Cards History

In the 18th Century visiting cards were in common use by the middle and upper classes. On new Years day visits were more frequent and the cards were passed around freely. Valentines cards were also in use and both formed a base for the Christmas card as we know it today. As Christmas Day was popularised by the Victorians they started to develop early designs of Christmas cards based on Valentine designs with Christmasy messages. These designs may have included pets or seaside scenes which would now seem unseasonal but Robins featured in early designs.
The first official Christmas card was created in 1843 and by 1880 the custom had become so popular that the post office asked people to ‘post early for Christmas’ for the first time. postmen wore red jackets and were nicknamed Robins and new cards often showed Robins on cards being delivered by red clothed postmen.

Yorkshire Expats Virtual Christmas Card can be viewed here

Christmas Food History

  • Old fashioned communal Christmas eating and drinking was much admired by Victorians. Food was provided by the squire or local land owners and was part of the seasonal activity.
  • Roast Turkey features in Mrs Beetons Cookery book of 1859 as a staple for the middle class Christmas.
  • Plum pudding of dried fruit improved by a soaking in spirit was another Victorian favourite. It also included suet, grated bread, sugar and candied peel along side the rasins and currants.
  • The earliest recipe for Yorkshire Christmas Pies dates from the eighteenth century, but they are probably much older. They were always stuffed to the gunnels with game and boned birds and frequently required a bushel of flour to make the crust. They were frequently sent as gifts. See Harewood house Victorian recipe for Yorkshire Pie
  • Roast goose with the classic sage and onion stuffing featured in a Victorian Christmas meat feast.
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