Celebrating Christmas in Victorian style

VICTORIAN STYLE: Christmas adverts from the era.
VICTORIAN STYLE: Christmas adverts from the era.
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WEARSIDERS are being offered the chance to take a trip down memory lane and celebrate an olde worlde Christmas.

The Donnison School, in Church Walk, is to host a Victorian Christmas Open Day this weekend, when traditional bygone crafts - such as card making - will be on show.

Xmas advert

Xmas advert

Carol singers, mulled wine and mince pies will add to the festive feel, as will sessions on how to build your own Victorian-style Christmas tree - using twigs and ribbons.

“The Victorians didn’t invent Christmas, but they built on traditions started by earlier generations - and finished it all off in great style,” said spokeswoman Janette Hilton.

“Christmas crackers – invented in the 1840s – have remained popular ever since, as has another Christmas tradition of that same decade – the commercial Christmas card.

“Such was the popularity of the Christmas card that, in Victorian times, many were printed locally - and postal deliveries were made right up until Christmas morning.”

Xmas advert

Xmas advert

Not all traditions, however, have survived. Indeed, the Victorians of the North East traditionally served beef as their Christmas dinner centrepiece - rather than turkey.

“Henry VIII was the first English monarch to try turkey as an alternative to his usual venison, beef, swan, carp, pheasants, partridges and quails,” said Janette.

“But despite turkeys becoming fashionable among the upper classes in Victorian times, most Wearsiders still saw the birds as luxury items until as late as the 1950s.

“Other courses included mince pies, Christmas cake and plum pudding. The latter had become a symbol of seasonal hospitality by the early Victorian period.”

Xmas advert

Xmas advert

Carol-singing – a tradition dating to medieval times – proved popular in the Victorian era too, with singers touring the streets to wake people up on Christmas morning.

There were few Wearside homes without a Christmas tree either – a tradition dating to the 18th century - even if it was made from twigs and ribbons and not actually real.

Yule dollies – dough figures decorated with currants – were traditional Christmas treats for Durham villagers, while Houghton boasted Yuletide sword dancing.

And almost all County Durham villages in Victorian times had a mistletoe man, who was responsible for bringing an 
illegal spring to each home in secret - for luck.

“Times have certainly changed since the Victorian era, but Christmas still remains an important time of year - filled with traditions dating back centuries,” said Janette.

“We are hoping to bring a little of that traditional festive feeling back with our open day, and it will certainly be a chance to see how the Victorians celebrated Christmas.”

l The event will 
be held this Saturday, from 11am until 3pm. Gifts, prints, cards 
and traditional food and drink will be on sale, as well as tickets for a £200 raffle.