No era in history has influenced the way in which we celebrate Christmas, quite as much as the Victorians. Before Queen Victoria’s reign, Christmas was hardly celebrated. Trees were not decorated, 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 small gifts would be 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, and the gifts became bigger and shop-bought, 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.
The term “Crazy Quilt” refers to a type of patchwork quilt that was wildly popular in the late 1800s. But it could also credit those who attempted the stitchery.
In 1884, Harper’s Bazaar estimated that a full-sized quilt might take 1,500 hours to complete! If a Victorian sewed 8 hours per day, the masterpiece would be complete in 187 days. Otherwise measured as 26 weeks or half a year.
Fashioned from irregularly shaped pieces of fabric in a variety of exotic materials, Crazy quilts were especially trendy among urban, upper-class Victorian women.
Host your own Victorian Celebration! A few scrumptious treats, savory platters of delicacies, and some raucous parlour games are sure to be a welcomed respite from our digital age.
In the Victorian Era, a party was not complete without games to entertain and delight youths & adults alike. Have your own fun by playing a few of the following games at your soiree!
Blindfold one of the players while all other guests scatter around the room. To start, the blindman is spun around several times. The blindfolded person must attempt to catch someone. When they capture a player they have to give the identity. If they get it right then the captured player takes the blindfold and play continues. If the blindman is unable to identify who they have captured the prisoner is freed and play continues.
Hunt the Slipper
A player stands in the centre of a circle formed by the other players. The player in the middle closes his eyes and as he does so the slipper is passed from player to player behind their backs. When the person in the middle opens his eyes, the passing of the slipper immediately stops and the player must guess who holds the slipper. If he is correct, they change places, otherwise the player closes his eyes again and play continues.
One person is chosen to leave the room (he is called the judge). All the other players must place a small personal item into a box. The “judge” is brought back in to the room. He picks up an item and describes it. The owner must identify himself and pay a forfeit – do something amusing/embarrassing – to win back the item.
It is said that the tradition of afternoon tea was established by Anne, Duchess of Bedford. Anne requested that light sandwiches be brought to her in the late afternoon because she had a “sinking feeling” during the long gap between meals. She then began to invite others to join her and thus became the tradition.
It is important to use proper etiquette when attending afternoon tea.
After sitting down, place your purse on your lap or behind you against the chair back.
Unfold your napkin and carefully place it upon your lap.
If you must leave the table, temporarily, place the napkin on the chair.
Never blot or wipe your lipstick with a linen or cloth napkin or use it as a handkerchief!
Sugar is placed in your teacup first, then thinly sliced lemon.
If you like to have milk in your tea, add it after the tea is poured. Never use milk and lemon together.
Hold the handle of the teacup using your thumb and your first one or two fingers.
Never put your pinkie out whilst drinking. That is deemed rude.
Do not loop your fingers through the teacup handle or cradle the side or bottom of the cup with your hands.
A guest should look into the teacup when drinking, never over it.
When stirring your tea, be careful not to clink your spoon against the cup.
Gently swish the spoon back and forth without touching the sides of the cup.
When through stirring, remove the spoon and place it on the saucer behind the tea cup and to the right of the handle.
Of course, never take a drink of your tea without removing the spoon first, and please never, ever sip from the spoon.
Take small, quiet sips of your tea. Do not blow on the tea if it is too hot.
When you are not drinking tea, place the cup on the saucer.
If seated at a table, never pick up the saucer.
If standing, you may lift the saucer with the cup.
It is fine to eat most of the foods with your fingers with small, dainty bites.
Use a fork when trying to eat messy foods.
Scones are a traditional part of a proper tea. Split the scone with a knife. Since the knife is now used, either place it on your knife rest, or lay it gently on the side of your plate.
Jam or curds are usually placed on the scone and then top off with a dollop of clotted cream.
Simply spoon a small amount of jam or curds onto your plate then spread the jam, curds, and clotted cream onto your scone.
Never use the serving spoon for this task.
In the privacy of your own home one might dunk biscuits into tea, however, do not partake in this practice when taking Afternoon Tea!
Be sure to take small bites, since attending a tea is a social occasion and you will want to participate in the conversation without always having a full mouth.
Chew and swallow completely before taking a drink of tea, since it is hot and is not meant to wash the food down.
The hostess will signal the end of the tea by picking up her napkin. Everyone else will then pick up their napkin by the center and loosely lay to the left of their plate.
“But indeed I would rather have nothing but tea.” — Jane Austen
During the Victorian Era, the infant mortality rate was alarmingly high, countless lives were lost to industrial equipment, and all the while a single disease could take an entire family.
With such an abundance of death, survivors were left full of anguish. Thus Spiritualism – the belief that ghosts exist and we can communicate with them – came into existence.
A key component of spiritualism are séances. A séance, is a meeting centered on a medium who seeks to communicate with spirits of the dead. One usually takes place in darkness and it generally involves six or eight persons, who normally form a circle and hold hands.
Three American sisters: Leah, Margaret and Kate Fox, were the world’s first mediums. The trio hit the headlines when they claimed to communicate with a spirit haunting their home. The girls used a series of knocks – one for ‘yes’, two for ‘no’ – to communicate with the spirit.
Spiritualism was the answer many Victorians were seeking. An official religion, the Spiritualists’ National Federation, was started in the UK in 1890. Known today as the Spiritualists’ National Union, the organization has 350 affiliated churches with almost 16,000 full members and over 2,000 associate members in England.
Victorians were incredibly thoughtful and symbolic. Every aspect of their life from clothing to tapestries to paintings were brimming with symbolism. Jewelry in that period was no exception- be it on pendants, brooches, bracelets, rings and more – it imbued symbolism.
A specific symbol in Victorian jewelry was the crescent moon.
Crescent moons symbolize the feminine moon goddess, and as such, is associated with female empowerment. The moon also symbolizes change, for just as the moon cycles through phases, so does life.
Stunning examples of antique Victorian Era Crescent Moon jewelry are shown below.
The moon creates the ebb and flow of the tide; it casts light into the darkness of night. Thus the moon will always captivate and resonate with past, present, and future generations.
Following Britain’s Industrial Revolution, a design movement emerged as a way to create products that not only had integrity but were made in a less dehumanizing way. The movement was coined “the Arts and Crafts movement” and it had a huge impact on how Victorian society viewed production. The movement reformed the design and manufacture of everything from buildings to jewelry.
A key leader of the movement was William Morris, a renowned designer. He is quoted as saying, “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”
William Morris strived to create beautifully constructed everyday objects in a harmonious manner that kept the craftsman connected to the consumer. He pushed back on factory work, in hopes to return to small-scale workshops. Morris wanted to rid the working class of repetitive tasks so that they might engage directly with the creative process from beginning to end.
The Arts and Crafts movement thrived in rural communities and created employment for local people, such as amateurs and students. And it also created an environment in which, for the first time, women as well as men could begin to take an active role in developing new forms of design, both as makers and consumers.
Below are a few examples of objects produced during the Arts & Crafts Movement.