Christmas brings nostalgia, often with chocolate box images of Victorian Britain; an association immortalised in Charles Dickens’ novella A Christmas Carol. Now Edinburgh Castle is exploring the period’s festivities with celebrations running from December 19 – 23.
Launching this festive cheer is Assistant Events Manager at Historic Environment Scotland, Fran Caine.
He said: “Our Traditions and Tales of a Victorian Christmas was developed to provide visitors with a festive event that would explore history in an engaging way. It’s always a popular fixture in our events programme.”
Caine explained that the UK Victorian era, through its German royal family members, brought the tradition of decorating yew bows and eventually trees to the country. In keeping with this tradition, Edinburgh castle’s Victorian Christmas will be adorned with evergreen.
He described: “The centerpiece of the castle’s decoration is a Noble Fir tree, which usually stands at around 17-feet tall. Situated in the Great Hall, it proves to be an additional draw for our visitors over the festive season.”
Festivities will also include historically dressed performers, with tales and verses from the Victorian era.
Caine said: “Our performers source their own authentic costumes. Inspired by Charles Dickens, the event centers around a re-enactor portraying one of this period’s most iconic writers.”
Dickens’ depiction of festivities in A Christmas Carol showcases many Victorian conventions that have prevailed.
Caine recalled: “This particular period in time can be seen by many as the origin of the Christmas that we know and celebrate today. It was the start of a number of festive traditions that continued over a century and a half later.”
Among these traditions are annual leave from work and gift exchanging, both made possible by Victorian industrialisation.
Industrial boom in the 19th Century brought newfound wealth that allowed middle class families to take time off work, over December 25 and 26. December 26 then became known as Boxing Day, when lower class people would open the parcels of money gifted to them by employers or benefactors.
Other gifts made popular by the 19th Century were those of toys that, with the introduction of factory production, were made more affordable to the middle classes.
Just as toys became associated with Christmas in the Victorian era, so did games.
Caine said: “We might have swapped festive parlour games for more contemporary versions, but the traditions of Christmases past can still be recognised today.”
Today’s Christmas dinner also has its roots in Victorian custom.
Caine explained: “During Victorian times turkey became the popular meat dish on the Christmas table. Previously goose or beef were the preferred choices. The Victorians were also responsible for the development of the mincemeat filled mince pies that are still enjoyed at this time of year.”
He added: “Many of the festive traditions such as decorating the home, pulling crackers, sending Christmas cards and even the popularisation of the Christmas tree can be traced back to the Victorians.”
To trace these traditions in person, revellers can visit Edinburgh castle from December 19- 23, at 11.15, 12.15, 14.00 and 15.00; during this time Traditions and Tales of a Victorian Christmas is included in the cost of admission to the castle.
Caine concluded: “The event will offer a real insight into the festive traditions and customs and how Christmas might once have been celebrated over 160 years ago. It is definitely one for all the family to enjoy.”