No era in history has influenced how we celebrate Christmas, quite as much as the Victorians. Before Queen Victoria’s reign, Christmas celebrations were bleak, or non-existent. Christmas trees went undecorated, Christmas cards not sent, and not many knew of the Jolly Ole Saint Nick. In the same right, the process of giving and receiving gifts was not a Christmas tradition.
The exchanging of presents, at the beginning of the Victorian times, was done to celebrate the New Year. However, as Christmas Day began to grow in significance, the tradition shifted. And gifts were given to loved ones and friends on Christmas.
Initially, gifts were rather modest – fruit, nuts, sweets and small handmade trinkets. These little gifts hung from the tree similar in nature to the small chocolates we hang from the tree today. However, as gift giving became more central to the festival, the gifts grew in size, quality, and moved under the tree.
Children’s toys tended to be handmade and expensive, thus generally restricting availability to those of the upper class. But as the industrial revolution swept across the country, games, dolls, and toys arrived at a more affordable price, and middle-class children saw toys underneath the tree. Low-income children would still only receive an apple, orange, or a few nuts.