Christmas Past

By | December 9, 2018

test article image
UNSPECIFIED - CIRCA 1800: Christmas day on board ship in the north sea during the First World War. The captain samples the men's food. From The Illustrated War News published 1914 (Photo by Universal History Archive/Getty Images)

Christmas traditions from the past were quite a bit different than they are today. Families would always come together to celebrate. A big meal would be served on Christmas Day with all the relatives present around the table including aunts, uncles, parents, grandparents, cousins, and siblings. Entire towns and cities would decorate the town with the citizens and neighbors having cheerful words on their lips during that time of year unless of course, they were like the old miser, Mr. Scrooge with a ‘bah humbug’ on his lips. Today, the family unit has strayed away from the traditional Christmas celebrations of old, as many are displaced from their families, such as those families where the children are split between two different households or the family is divided on which in-laws’ home to go to. But in Christmas past . . .

Even during World War I, Christmas was celebrated on the ship in the North Sea with the Captain enjoying the tasty goods of the men’s dinner. They even had decorations aboard.  It was a tradition for the officers, along with the Captain, to visit the men during dinner with the cook standing at the end of each table to offer them a sampling of the meal. Exchanging expressions of good cheer, they moved from table to table. Even officers of the Grand Fleet would provide Christmas meals for their families at home.

test article image
William Sandys, Christmas-tide, Its History, Festivities and Carols, With Their Music (London: John Russell Smith, 1852), p. 151. The graphic was found on page 152a.

In Britain, the Christmas tree had not become a common tradition before the middle of the 19th century. After Queen Victoria proposed to Prince Albert, they were married in 1840 in London. Prince Albert loved the Christmas tree, which was part of his tradition growing up. Queen Victoria was also familiar with the Christmas tree through her grandmother, Queen Charlotte in 1800. When Prince Albert and Queen Victoria got married, he incorporated the Christmas tree into their Christmas tradition. In 1841, he had Windsor Castle decorated with only the best including hand-blown glass ornaments from Germany along with candles, gingerbread, and fruits. In 1847, he went further than that by providing a vast amount of trees for the schools and Army barracks and even decorating them himself. He would put all sorts of items on them like goodies such as almonds and raisins as well as candles and wax dolls. As part of the tradition, gifts would be put on tables covered with linen cloths by the tree.