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How Christmas Stole Presents From New Year’s Day

Who stole presents from New Year’s Day? Until the Victorian Era, gift giving happened on New Year’s rather than Christmas. Most historians point to  the influence of Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, for the transformation of the Christmas season.  He largely influenced how we celebrate today — and how Christmas stole presents from New Year’s Day.

Prince Albert was born in Germany where evergreen trees were traditionally brought into the home and decorated with toys, candles, sweets and fruits. While Queen Victoria was familiar with the custom from her childhood and even wrote about it in her journal for Christmas Eve, 1832, it was Albert who brought his love of the custom to their marriage—and to England. Ultimately it was because of their union that Christmas stole presents from New Year’s.

In 1847, Prince Albert wrote: “I must now seek in the children an echo of what Ernest (his brother) and I were in the old time, of what we felt and thought; and their delight in the Christmas-trees is not less than ours used to be.” Prince Albert also presented large numbers of trees to schools and Army barracks at Christmas.

In 1848, the Royal Family was seen gathered around a decorated Christmas tree in an engraving published in the Illustrated London News. Presents were placed beneath the tree or on a table beside it. Slowly but surely, Christmas stole presents from New Year’s Eve and Day.

Of course, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, first published in 1843, helped. The book triggered many traditions of Christmas celebrated today in Western culture.  Among them are the sense of merriment,  family gatherings, Christmas food and drink, and a generosity of spirit. Prior to A Christmas Carol, the Puritans had taken all the fun out of Christmas.

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