“Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house not a creature was stirring not even a mouse”.
I could go on but the copyright won’t allow it, but thank you Clement C Moore for writing this book. I still read my Mum’s childhood copy of this book every Christmas Eve, although my brother’s drunken version one year was hilarious.
Let me state for the record I think Ebenezer Scrooge was right. I hate Christmas, always have, and always will. It’s just another excuse for shops to persuade you to spend money, it stresses everyone out and depresses people as TV portrays that everyone is wearing fabulous clothes and going to parties giving out expensive presents and eating and drinking luxury products. Also you hear Noddy Holder yelling “it’s Christmas” every time you go in a shop from the beginning of November and by Christmas you’re ready to stop listening to the radio (or is that just me?). Christmas day is usually warm, but you have to wear your Christmas jumper or the jumper you’re Gran’s knitted for you, whoevers cooking is stressed, all the kids are so hyper you may as well have given them Sunny Delight and you just eat and drink too much as there’s nothing else to do as the TV schedules rubbish. It was funny the Christmas my grandfather’s had a little too much to drink and started making speeches. They soon sobered up when Mum told them they were washing up.
Now I don’t want to sound ungrateful for any present’s I’ve received over the years as I loved them, but I would rather people spent their money on themselves. I’ve had some great presents over the years notably any cuddly toys, my train set and anything Care Bear based (my grandparents got me my Tenderheart bear from Dubrovnik in Croatia one year as they were so much cheaper) and my all time favourite was in 1989 when I was given money to buy a guinea pig and he was my best friend and confidant for 5 years and I still miss him to this day.
Right rant over. So how does our Christmas differ from those which came before Christmas?
Well in general terms our modern day Christmas traditions began in the Victorian era. It’s believed the bringing into the house of a Christmas tree was brought to Great Britain by Price Albert, although for hundreds of years before this greenery was brought into the homes during the winter months. Before this though what was Christmas like? Well I’m going to consider the Tudor royal Christmas as this is a period of time which fascinates me.
Christmas was much different. It ran from Christmas Day to Epiphany (the 6th January) and was known as the 12 days of Christmas. There was no merriment in the run up to the season. Advent (the 4 weeks before Christmas) was a period of fasting until Christmas Day, and on Christmas Eve they virtually had a vegan diet. During the 12 days most people had to stop working especially the farming and spinning industry, not the servants though. The revelry took place in this period and families came together. Plays were a plenty by the ladies of the palace, carols were sung to honour the nativity, the Yule log burnt throughout the entire 12 days and the food flowed. They also attended a lot of church services, but then before the reformation they did anyway, and after to an extent, they were just a bit different.
As for the food mince pies were around in the Tudor court and tables were groaning. Henry VIII was the first monarch to eat turkey in the 1520’s, but he also ate most of the rest of the farm yard and the woods and the trees. Food was everywhere from morning till night and everything from meat and nuts to exotic foods and sweets were available.
Today we exchange gifts on Christmas day, but in the Tudor palace the gifts were exchanged on the Roman New Year’s Day (1st January), although in this period new year was actually 25 March (this is why in old parish records you may find a date such as this 1600/1 as the year turned over later in the year). Henry VIII used the exchanging of gifts as a way of showing favour. If the king sent you a gift, you were in favour, but if he didn’t watch out. It was the same with receiving gifts. If he accepted it all’s great, if not, help! He famously in 1532 refused a gift from his wife Catherine of Aragon but accepted one from his mistress Anne Boleyn, the following year Catherine was banned from court and Anne was pregnant and married to the king (in that order).
So really without all the hype and fancy lights (I do like those) Christmas wasn’t so different. Eat too much, drink too much and enjoy yourselves.
“But I heard him exclaim as he drove out of sight, Happy Christmas to all, and to all a goodnight”
Merry Christmas to you all from Family History Research England
Many families have traditions in their families that they do year on year. They can range from things they do to presents they give.
A lot of family’s probably have similar traditions. I always got a little orange and a bag of chocolate money (except Father Christmas forgot my chocolate money last year!) and a pillow case with my presents in. My parents always got a new pair of slippers. Some may always have visited the same people on the same day. For us my grandparents always came for Christmas day and then we spent Boxing Day with my cousins, then New Year’s Eve was at our house and New Year’s Day was back to my cousin’s house. Other traditions for us include a real Christmas tree every year.
But how many of these traditions stem from necessity. Yes it was great that your ancestor’s got a new pair of slippers every Christmas, but if you think about it they probably needed them, so they got what they needed as a present. I can remember getting a new winter coat which makes a great present and is something I needed.
The further back you go through your ancestor’s the more this probably happened. Children probably just got the new clothes they needed and little else, or if they did they were most likely homemade and it would have been rare that the adults got a present, unless they were from a wealthy family that could afford to buy them.
Another form the traditions may take could relate to Christmas food. Tradition today for Christmas dinner is a full roast with turkey. In the Victorian era and before it would more likely have been goose. I’ve had a variety of strange foods for Christmas dinner. I’ve had a BBQ, a fry up and even pizza. Just because it’s Christmas day doesn’t mean it has to be turkey and Christmas pudding. Going back through your ancestor’s it may be that the family scrimped and saved just to have a small piece of meat for Christmas Day (think of the Cratchit’s in a Christmas Carol). If they were farmers like many of my ancestors were they may have had a better dinner as they had the land to grow their own veg and raise animals just for themselves.
Traditions could be things the family did. Pre WW1 it’s most likely that your ancestors would have attended church on Christmas morning before going home for the day. Many a time the man of the house may have gone to the pub after church before going home for lunch. Other traditions could be that on Boxing Day the family went for a long walk or went carolling in the days coming up to Christmas Day.
We need to remember though that the further you go back through your ancestors the less likely it would be that that had any kind of Christmas. Tradition for them could have been that Christmas was a non-event as any kind of celebration would have been beyond their means. Those in the workhouse could have had a better day as even they got a little more food on Christmas day.
Each new generation probably has a new a new set of traditions. Some may combine the traditions of their parents along with new traditions. Each generation will have access to new ideas, beliefs and material things which will mean they can have new traditions that your ancestor’s could never have imagined. Can you imagine your Georgian ancestor’s ever thinking that you can put electric lights on a tree in your house or even covering their houses in them?
So why not start a new Christmas tradition this year so that in the future your descendants can wonder where the Christmas traditions they do come from.
Hello and thank you for taking the time to read my ramblings on genealogy and history in general. I hope you find it informative and hopefully funny!