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Victorian Photos Illuminate Holidays

Victorian photos illuminate early versions of our holiday traditions. The trees were often skinnier, as was Santa. The shop windows were less brilliant. Gifts were often humble compared to those of today. And New Year’s Eve was a mixed bag of superstitions, parades and elaborate banquets. But the holiday spirit still shines through these Victorian photos of our  ancestors.

Early Christmas Trees Were Were Often Scrawnier Than Today’s

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.

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.

Christmas trees were still relatively new to most homes in Britain and America during the late 1800s. Since widespread electrification of the world was decades away, candles lit most holiday trees. Along with candles came melted wax, flames and fire. Then in 1882, Edward H. Johnson strung the first electric Christmas tree lights. This Victorian photo might show a scrawny tree, but it has the latest in lighting technology.

Christmas Shopping Boomed In the Late 1800s

Victorian Christmas shopping boomed through the nineteenth century. With industrialism came mountains of affordable gifts. Improvements in transportation enabled consumers to travel to cities and town centers to buy them. Shiny new department stores with showcase windows made the gifts irresistible.

These Victorian photos of Christmas shoppers differ in details, but the looks of excitement and wonder have not changed.

Santa’s Image Crystallized

Then Santa Claus got a cuddly makeover and a giant sled to deliver everything on Victorian Christmas shopping lists.

By the late 1800s, the new and improved Santa was a familiar image in newspapers and magazines. According to New England Living Today, in 1890, dry goods owner, James Edgar of Brockton, Massachusetts pushed Victorian Christmas Shopping up another notch. He had a suit custom made and the first department store Santa Claus was born.

In 1902 L. Frank Baum (author of the Wizard of Oz series) expanded Santa’s biography in the Life And Adventures of Santa Claus. In 1904 Baum shed a new light to Victorian photos of the Christmas hero in with his short story, A Kidnapped Santa Claus.

Missus Claus remained in the background if she appeared at all. But Victorian photos and other images show that she was breaking a few moves of her own by the late 1800s.

New Year’s Celebrations Were Eclectic

Victorian photos and images illustrate the range of New Year’s activities. From first-Foot superstitions on New Year’s Eve to speed dating on New Year’s Day show our ancestors found ways to ring in the New Year.

Lucky pigs were big along with elaborate banquets, including one that took place in the belly of the beast.

And of course we have Victorian photos of the Mummers Parade ,started in Philadelphia in 1901. According to the Philadelphia Encyclopedia it brought together many of the loosely organized groups of folk performers who roamed the streets each year between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day.

“Throughout much of northern Europe and colonial North America, groups of mummers roved from house to house during the Christmas season, entertaining their hosts and expecting food, drink, or a small tip in return.”

Like the other holiday traditions in these Victorian photos, The Mummer’s Parade marches on to this day.

Happy Holidays From
Racing Nellie Bly
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