“Of the ‘high days of the Calendar’ Christmas was always the one which held the chief place in England where it was celebrated in a manner so different from what was customary in other countries as to excite the astonishment of foreigners.
As soon as the Christmas holidays had arrived work and care were universally thrown aside and, instead of devotional practices by which other countries commemorated the sacred occasion, England rang from one end to the other with mirth and joviality.
Christmas carols were trolled in every street, masquerades and plays took possession of houses and churches indifferently. A Lord of Misrule whose reign lasted from All-Hallow Eve till the day after the Feast of Pentecost, was elected in every noble household to preside over the sports and fooleries of the inmates, while each member prepared himself either to enact some strange character or to devise some new stroke of mirth.
The towns on these occasions assumed a sylvan appearance; the houses were dressed with branches of ivy and holly; the churches were converted into leafy tabernacles and standards bedecked with evergreens were set up in the streets, while the young of both sexes danced around them.”
Illustrated London News December 20, 1845
The Christmas tree is captivatingly beautiful to children’s eyes as it stands in its blazing brilliancy, gleaming with lights and laden with such thick-hanging clusters of rich and varied fruit. Prince Albert is credited with the introduction of the Christmas Tree in England. It quickly became the centre piece of all seasonal decoration.
“The birthplace of the Christmas-Tree is Egypt, and its origin dates from a period long antecedent to the Christian era.
The palm-tree is known to put forth a shoot every month and a spray of this tree with twelve shoots on it was used in Egypt at the time of the winter solstice as a symbol of the year completed.
The palm-tree spray of Egypt, on reaching Italy, became a branch of any other tree (the tip of the fir was found most suitable from its pyramidal or conical shape) and was decorated with burning tapers lit in honour of Saturn, whose saturnalia were celebrated from the 17th to the 21st of December, the period of the winter solstice.”
Illustrated London News December 1854
On the first night of the Christmas holidays the voices of carol singers floated in on the night air, and if they were lucky, welcomed indoors for a glass of punch and a mince pie.
“There is another aspect of the streets of London at Christmas, which requires notice, the more especially as this year it is painfully prominent – the carol singers ! Who seem to look upon themselves as privileged for the sake of the old familiar chant which they musically or unmusically pour into our ears, and who, of all ages and of both sexes, swarm in every street in numbers of which an accurate estimate would convey a somewhat alarming idea of the poverty of London – troops of unmusical beggars have made their appearance in the streets this year in numbers surpassing all precedent of experience.”
Illustrated London News December 1848