Love Christmas? Maybe you should thank the Victorians

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What do the Victorians have to do with Christmas?

With songs playing in the shops and decorations hanging everywhere, it well and truly feels like Christmas.

It is hard to imagine, but it actually wasn't that long ago that the Christmas traditions we know and love now, like sending cards and having a tree, weren't that popular in the UK.

At the beginning of the 19th century - so just over 200 years ago - many of the traditions that we know and love didn't exist!

Victorian family celebrating ChristmasGetty Images
This drawing shows a Victorian family celebrating Christmas

That is until the Victorians came along, then all of that changed. This refers to the time when Queen Victoria was on the throne, from 1837 until 1901.

So what did they do that gave us Christmas like we know it today?

Christmas cards

If you're somebody who likes to send Christmas cards to your friends and family, then you have the Victorians to thank for this tradition.

The first Christmas card was produced in Victorian times - in 1843 - by a man called Henry Cole.

He asked an artist to design a Christmas card and it became the first one that was made on a big scale.

But it was quite expensive. It cost a shilling, which is about £5 in today's money, so not many people could afford it.

People still liked the idea though, so lots of people started making Christmas cards, including Queen Victoria's own children.

Victorian Christmas card with mouse riding a lobster.
The Victorians sent some slightly weird Christmas cards, like this one from around 1880. Click on the link at the bottom of this page to see more odd ones!

There were three things that really helped the Christmas card industry to take off.

Firstly, the technology needed to produce printed cards got a lot better during Victorian times, so it meant it quickly became cheaper and easier to produce lots of cards.

Secondly, the Victorians made it possible to send cards in the first place, as they invented the halfpenny postage stamp.

This encouraged people to send letters and postcards to each other - and they particularly wanted to do this at Christmas.

Victorian postcardGetty Images
You can see Queen Victoria's face on this halfpenny postage stamp

Finally, many more children also went to school, which meant that more people could read and write.

In 1880, the Victorians produced 11.5 million Christmas cards, so you can see how quickly the idea caught on!

Christmas tree

One of the most famous images that springs to mind when you think of Christmas is a sparkling, decorated Christmas tree.

Well, there certainly wouldn't have been trees in every home before the Victorians.

That is because this tradition was made as popular as it is today by Queen Victoria's German husband, Prince Albert.

He had a Christmas tree when he was a boy living in Germany, so he introduced the idea over here.

Prince Albert and Queen VictoriaGetty Images
Prince Albert and Queen Victoria were very big fans of Christmas and made a lot of the traditions that we know today more popular

In 1848, a drawing was published which showed the royal family celebrating their Christmas around a decorated Christmas tree.

When everyone saw it, they decided that they wanted a tree of their own - and so the tradition caught on.

The trees would be filled with candles, sweets and homemade decorations.

However, there wasn't any tinsel used in these trees, as it is believed that tinsel is a more modern tradition in the UK.

King George III - who was on the throne a little earlier than Victoria - had a German wife called Charlotte, who it is thought used to decorate a tree for her family in the 1790s.

However, it was the Victorians who made this tradition as popular as it is today.

Christmas crackers

Another traditional part of many people's Christmas Day is pulling Christmas crackers.

Again, this was a tradition started by the Victorians.

Christmas crackers
We have the Victorians to thank for Christmas crackers too

In 1848, someone called Tom Smith invented a new way to sell sweets after being inspired on a trip to Paris.

He saw sugared almonds wrapped in twists of paper and this gave him the idea for the Christmas cracker.

Later on, other items were added to the inside, such as jokes and paper hats - much like the crackers that we still have today.

Rumour has it that Tom was inspired to add the 'bang' sound to his crackers after hearing a log crackle in the fire.

Christmas food

Having a feast at Christmas isn't down to the Victorians. It dates back as far as the Middle Ages.

But some of the foods that we now associate with a Christmas Day meal started with them.

For example, mince pies used to be made of meat, which is something that happened as far back as Tudor times (1485-1603).

But in Victorian times, recipes started to pop up among those higher up in society which didn't have meat in. These are more like the mince pies we have today.

Mince pieGetty Images
Mince pies used to have real meat in them

Another Christmassy food tradition that gained popularity during the Victorian times was having a turkey as the main dish. One of the reasons for this was that it was the perfect size to feed a family.