Traditions and Tales of a Victorian Christmas


Victorian Christmas


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.”

Budget festive fun



Christmas is a time of joy, but shopping and parties can leave you skint before the big day. So instead of throwing money at it, why not take Noel back to its humble roots. Here are my five tips for budget festive fun.


  1. Bake it off, I bake it off…

Baking is pretty cheap and an easy way to get your house smelling festive. Among the meagre ingredients of your kitchen there’s bound to be a treat. Only got eggs and sugar, well then you can bake meringues! Or combine cereal and melted chocolate to make crispy cakes. No need for cook books, just enter your ingredients into Supercook website and it will provide the recipe.

Missing some vital tool (like an electric whisk) well why not ask your neighbours if you can borrow theirs, Christmas is a time of sharing after all. You can reward this generosity with some of the aforementioned cake.

  1. Give it away, give it away now…

Christmas is a time for giving, so it’s nice to include a bit of philanthropy. Can’t afford a donation? Then why not round up your old clothes and bric-a brac to give to a charity shop. One man’s junk is another man’s kitsch, so clear out the old and make room for the new. To find a charity shop near you, search your post code on Charity Retail’s search engine.

  1. Singing in the rain…

Carol concerts are a great way to get into the festive spirit; not to mention a cheap night out. From churches to high streets, every town has them and they are usually free to attend. You might not be Christian, you might not even like singing, but there is something magical about a candlelight chorus that’s had to resist.

One venue that runs a schedule of concerts is Glasgow Cathedral and details of these concerts can be found on its website.

  1. Watch me now…

With Christmas films the old ones are the best; so look out the TV guide and get them recorded. It’s a Wonderful Life, The Vicar’s Wife, White Christmas and Meet me in St Louis are just some worth digging out. Don’t have a smart TV? Then download sites, charity shops and libraries are good places to source them. But if you do have a bit of cash to splash why go to the Glasgow Film Theatre, which dedicates some of its December bill to such vintage views.

  1. Read all about it…

Libraries, among other council buildings, host great Christmas events. Not just linear celebrations, but interactive craft and literary workshops. This year Dennistoun Library revamped its interior to look like Narnia’s winter wonderland, a perfect setting for its C.S. Lewis- fest. Admittedly this was aimed at kids, but it shows the free festive events that could be under your nose! For Christmas events in Glasgow, check out Glasgow Life’s website.


So take heed, Yule tide celebrations need not cost the earth. Get out there and deck the halls.