Friday, 2 December 2011

A Victorian Christmas, Part One

One of Dixon's Christmas wreaths
The house is a hive of activity at the moment as it seems that everyone has been infected with the Christmas spirit.

I don't mean to sound like Scrooge, but when after a quick visit to the play room results in the seat of my morning coat being covered in glitter for the rest of the day (and no one even having the courtesy to tell me) you might be inclined to be a tad grumpy also.
This lunch time I went into the play room to find that Dixon was busy fashioning holly, ivy, pine cones, apples, holly berries and red ribbon into wreaths using wire. Jenny was busy sewing ivy garlands from ivy leaves and strips of material. My daughter, Bessy was having great fun covering snowflake shaped biscuits with glitter and her brother, Alex, instead of making a paper chain with strips of coloured paper as he was supposed to, was trying to get his hands on his sisters glitter (leading to the earlier predicament I described). 

Holly, painted with glue then dusted with sugar
I confess though, when I have not been made a laughing stock, I do actually enjoy Christmas time. There is something so heart warming and comforting about that time of year, with families all gathered together inside by a warm fire while the winter weather rages outside.Not to mention the very fond memories I have of my first Christmas as a married man.
Margaret has suggested that I share with you some of our Christmas customs and traditions so over the next few weeks, I will share some the many things that make a Victorian Christmas special.
First if all, the decorations. Margaret has explained to me how these are made but please forgive any inaccuracies.
The wreaths that Dixon is making will be placed on the doors of the house and servants quarters as a welcoming sign.
The ivy garlands that Jenny is making (by hand sewing ivy leaves onto material) will often also have some holly berries or mistletoe attached and can be strewn wherever you would like around the room. We usually place some on the tree, some draped over the mantelpiece and some pinned over door frames or wrapped around the banister on the stairs.
The biscuits that Bessy is endeavouring to cover in glitter will be tied with ribbon and hung from the pine tree once it is erected.
Margaret's paper flowers
I fear that unless glitter looses it's appeal for Alex, we will not have any paper chains this year but if we are lucky enough to have some, they will be pinned to the ceiling, left to hand in large loops, or draped around the tree.
Other decorations for the tree will include paper roses, which Margaret and Dixon usually make from red, silver or white paper. Pine cones, usually painted gold, silver or just the tips painted white to look like snow and tied on with ribbon.
Another tradition is cornucopia cones (decorated paper cones) filled with sweets such as sugared almonds and hung from the tree branches using ribbon.
The mistletoe ball
My personal favourite decoration however, has to be the mistletoe ball, which Dixon makes every year. It is an odd Christmas tradition in that it has made it's way from the servants quarters into the rooms of the middle and upper classes, whereas usually fashions work the other way around. However, given that a gentleman can claim a kiss from a woman who passes beneath the mistletoe, I can hardly claim surprise that the upper classes have welcomed the decoration.
It is made very much like the wreath but much less greenery, with two wreaths fastened together at the top, from which a sprig of mistletoe is hung using ribbon.

Dixon's wrapping paper
Dixon usually finds the time to make some marbled wrapping paper for us all by dropping various dies into a thin layer of water, then briefly laying a sheet of white paper on top before removing it and leaving it to dry.
Cook gets in on the act by making some sweet red and white or green and white striped sugar canes which are then decorated with ribbons and lade and hung from the tree. She also ties cinnamon sticks and some vanilla pods together using ribbon and places these on the mantelpiece of each room to make them smell festive. 
Even the candelabra do not escape the festivities. Using berries and thin leaves, Dixon fashions small circles which sit atop the candelabra, at the base of the candles.
Another common practice is to affix small candles to the tree. However a nasty accident, involving Fanny losing a good three inches of hair when she was a girl, means that we have not had candles on our tree since. Given how curious Alex is and how mischievous Bessy can be, I believe that is the most sensible course of action.
Next, Christmas Part Two: Activities
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