How did celebrating Christmas become so popular? It certainly wasn’t always so. When I was young, everyone in Scotland worked on Christmas day.
New Year was the time for celebration. If we look back beyond the Victorian period, Christmas was just another day. Homes were not decorated except for a few sprigs of mistletoe and holly usually draped around the doors and windows. The peasant in his hovel and the rich man is his mansion had virtually the same decorations. Some rich men realised that this could lead to the poor men having pretensions; they might even believe they were equals- God forbid.
The rich men commissioned paper decorations to be designed and hung from the walls to the ceiling. The poor could not afford to compete with such luxuries, of course, and so the natural status of rich and poor was reestablished. Then the recently married Queen Victoria had a portrait made of her standing with Albert beside a Christmas tree. This caused a sensation and immediately the rich latched on to the tree as a must have item. The result was more panic buying than we saw in the recent Black Friday sales. People began to hang trinkets on the trees, usually homemade, however being wealthy this did not satisfy them for long and they began hanging larger store bought items. Eventually the tree could not bear the weight and most people reverted to distributing the parcels around the base of the tree.
A brilliant innovation was to light waxed candles on the tips of the branches. This could be very spectacular, especially when the tree went on fire or the house burned down. At this time wealthy people had to write letters to their friends at Christmas, however those with many friends found this a real chore.
A wealthy landowner decided to have 1,000 cards printed containing a simple Christmas message. This was way beyond the reach of most people. The idea did however catch on and technological advances in colour printing drastically reduced the cost of the cards. This together with the new ½ penny post, delivered anywhere in Britain, brought sending of cards within the reach of most people. With all this celebration now going on at Christmas people began to invite relatives and friends to join them in the celebrations. It became the norm to exchange presents and have a sing song. This was typified in Charles Dickens novel A Christmas Carol and when it was published was a sensation- the Harry Potter of its day. With the story of a miserable old miser and Bob Crachet his downtrodden clerk, together with the haunting of Scrooge, it struck a chord with people worldwide.
It also provided a wonderful source of income for Dickens, and he toured Britain and then America giving readings of his novel, there never a dry eye in the house. The crippled Tiny Tim was a source of many a sodden hankie.
Dickens is generally credited with popularising Christmas. People began to revive the old folk tunes and give them new words, a very popular one being ‘Good King Wenceslas’. In fact Wenceslas wasn’t a king; he was the Duke of Bavaria. However they probably felt that singing ‘The Duke of Bavaria looked out on the feast of Stephen,’ didn’t have the same ring to it, so he was promoted to King.
I will close of this article with the final toast of Tiny Tim in a Christmas Carol “God bless us, everyone”