Edwardian Christmas Traditions

Adriana Pacheco

"It was a crimson and purple and golden Christmas; for there was much love and good-will there, and these things give colour to Christmas"-L.M. Montgomery

 Christmas is almost upon us, and we are all no doubt busy getting our decorations in place, deciding what we will have as a meal and generally trying to get into the festive holiday spirit. The traditions that we associate with Christmas have a long and varied history, and many like the Christmas Tree, gained widespread popularity during the Victorian and Edwardian Eras.

Since Anne of Green Gables and Road to Avonlea are both set in the Edwardian Era, here is a look at what an Edwardian Christmas might have entailed:

The Christmas Tree:

Did you know that the Christmas tree only became truly popular once Queen Victoria started having them in her home, after marrying Prince Albert? She loved the German tradition of the decorated tree and others followed her example, bringing us the tradition that we all so dearly associate with Christmas. In the Edwardian Era, it was common for the tree to be brought in and decorated on Christmas Eve, giving the night a special magic and festive feeling. The tree was usually decorated with paper chains and other home made paper decorations. Other decorations in the home might have included holly, ivy, mistletoe, and laurel.

Christmas Crackers:

The Christmas Cracker was a staple of the Edwardian Christmas. First introduced into society in the 1840s, by the year 1900 the company who manufactured them was selling millions of them a year. A Christmas cracker would include a toy, a paper hat, or candy, all with a strip of paper with a message. These would often be pulled at dinner and were one of the most looked forward to traditions of the holidays.

Christmas Dinner:

We may associate turkey with a traditional Christmas dinner, but in the Edwardian Era Christmas Dinner usually consisted of other meats or fowl like roast beef, goose, or duck. A truly traditional Edwardian dinner would have had a vast array of scrumptious foods to feast on, like Bread Sauce, Stuffing, Meat or Pheasant Pies, Mince Meat Pies, Pudding, Cobbler and other sundry desserts and mains.

Sending Christmas Cards:

During the Victorian and Edwardian Eras, the sending of Christmas cards to friends and loved ones became extremely popular. These cards would have featured scenes with animals, children, St. Nicholas or festive trappings like holly and ivy. Postage was often cheap and cards were an fun and meaningful way to show someone you were thinking of them during the holidays.

Christmas Window Displays:

Did you know that the Edwardian Era was when stores started putting big Christmas displays in their windows? In 1909 the British department store Selfridges mounted a sumptuous window display, which would light up at night for all to stop and admire. Similarly, Macy’s in the United States began producing elaborate window displays for Christmas in the 1890’s. And in Canada, Eaton’s and Simpsons' window displays would draw large crowds to admire them every year. A typical window display would have featured a Christmas tree, surrounded by gifts, a biblical scene or later animatronic elements to depict nursery rhymes and the like.

Caroling:

No Edwardian Era Christmas was complete without at least some caroling. This tradition started in the Victorian Era, which according to Historical Harmonies is when a lot of the carols we associate with Christmas came into being. After dinner, family and friends would gather around and sing carols, such as “Here We Come a-wassailing” and “Silent Night.” The tradition  of door to door caroling, which Historical Harmonies says originates from the English custom of “waits” where people would go from house to house and sing for their food, would have also been observed and would have included festive tunes like “Good King Wenceslas” and “Jingle Bells” (or “One Horse Open Sleigh” as it was originally titled.)

Stockings:

The Christmas stocking was a relatively new tradition in the Edwardian Era. According to Smithsonian Magazine, the tradition takes its roots from the story of a father who worried his daughters would be too poor to marry. St. Nicholas, learning of their predicament, popped down their chimney and  filled the girls’ drying stockings with gold coins. In the Edwardian Era, stockings would have been hung by the fire or on the end of the children’s beds and would have been filled with things like an orange, nuts, sweets and little toys.

And there you have it! Edwardian Christmas doesn’t sound too different from our own festive celebrations, does it? Christmas may be a little different this year, but we hope you are able to embrace the festive spirit and the joy of the season.

To see an Edwardian Era Christmas on screen, watch Anne of Green Gables and An Avonlea Christmas, on GazeboTV.

Images courtesy of the Anne of Green Gables Christmas Treasury by Carolyn Strom Collins and Christina Wyss Erikson.

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