The Tales Behind The Traditions
With our shop turning the ripe old age of 50 next year, it’s not surprising that we at George's are big lovers of traditions and Christmas is a time steeped in them. There are so many things that we do during the festive season that, outside of context would seem confusing, and they’re all down to history! Why do we send out Christmas cards? When did we start bringing trees inside and decorating them? Why do we pull crackers at the dinner table to find jokes and hats and small plastic fish that can sense your mood? We don’t know about you, but all this is rather intriguing and we are on a Christmas mission to find the answers.
We walk past our lovely collection of Christmas cards everyday in store, and have never really thought much of them other than they fact that they are all extremely cute, but when exactly did we start sending colourful pieces of card to one another to wish happy Christmases to those near and far?
Well, it all started with a British entrepreneur called Henry Cole in the mid nineteenth century. He was a civil servant for the Public Records Office as well as being an inventor. Around Christmastime one year, he began to dismay at the busy period made worse by the ever-increasing pile of Christmas letters to write, and started seeking an easier and faster way to send his well wishes out.
He designed a card with three panels, one depicting a traditional Christmas dinner scene and the other two showing people giving to the poor, illustrating two of the main values of Victorian Christmas. He printed 1000 of these cards and they could be purchased for 1 shilling each, although these original Christmas cards have recently sold for thousands at auction.
Card production only grew from there as Cole himself was one of the pioneers of the Penny Post - the first publicly available postal service. The tradition quickly spread, and was adopted across Europe and beyond with particular popularity in Germany.
Many ancient groups and religions have always celebrated in some form close to the Winter Solstice even before Christianity was adopted, and Evergreen trees have been used as decoration and symbols for this throughout history. Fir trees, our Christmas Trees, remain green even through the harshest Winters, so they are a symbol of surviving the cold and the ultimate symbol of perseverance in life, which is why they were commonly brought into peoples homes to celebrate the Winter Solstice.
It’s thought that the tradition of decorating a fir tree and placing presents beneath it for Christmas evolved from this in a marriage of solstice and Christmas traditions in Germany, and was brought to England sometime in the 1800’s but didn’t appeal much to the locals until Queen Victoria’s German husband, Prince Albert, encouraged the tradition and an image of their family in front of a decorated tree was seen across the country. This is just one of the traditions started by queen Victoria, another one being wearing white wedding dresses.
Today, we adorn our trees, real or synthetic, with lights, tinsel and baubles. We have some charming and unusual baubles in store, pudding loving pandas, game controllers and of course our beloved Frida Kahlo, to make your tree look great and make your holiday guests stop for a second look.
This strange tradition has always been puzzling, after all, we seem to be one of the only countries that pulls apart a cardboard cracker and sits through Christmas dinner with a paper hat on. Yes, it seems like second nature to us now, but this tradition only began in the 1850’s, and like all good things, it began with sweets.
A sweet maker named Tom Smith noted the way that the French wrapped their bonbons in decorative wrapping that had to be pulled open, and he began using this method with his own creations, including a small saying or riddle inside too. This did not prove hugely successful until Smith one day got the idea to try and harness some of the crackles and sparks from a fire into a fun way to open a gift or sweet. This business went with a bang.
By the time Smith died he has a very successful product on his hands, and his three sons carried on the legacy, one of them adding hats into the crackers and another travelling the world for interesting gift ideas to go inside. There were quickly crackers for every occasion and filled with everything from false teeth to expensive jewellery- and there were even crackers for coronations. The one that really caught on, however, is the Christmas cracker with a joke, a hat, and a small gizmo to keep you entertained until the Christmas Puddings brought out!
What are your Christmas traditions each year?