Just a traditional Christmas – The British Newspaper Archive Blog

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Just a traditional Christmas

Tradition is inescapable at this time of year. Whether you are retreading the paths of your childhood on a visit home with nostalgia and memory driving your actions or you are building new traditions with your children while they are young, Christmas is a time of familiarity. These days what we think of as a traditional Christmas is steeped in Victorian imagery. We’ve been looking through the newspapers to see how people celebrated the season of good will in days gone by.

In 1785, the Christmas Eve edition of the Norfolk Chronicle recommended the present every parent was looking for that year. Modern children might be happy with the idea of a gift of money but one wonders how they would feel about being given a lottery ticket. Granted the prizes were enough to set you up for life by the standards of the time.

Norfolk Chronicle - Saturday 24 December 1785 © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Norfolk Chronicle – Saturday 24 December 1785 © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

If you weren’t spending your Christmas Eve queuing for your subscription to the Friendly Beneficial Society’s entry into the English State Lottery, then perhaps some festive entertainment would be the thing. If you happened to be near the Rampant Horse pub you could go to one of the three daily performances of the Scientific Pig – whose abilities apparently amazed his friends and astonished his enemies.

Norfolk Chronicle  24 December 1785 © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Norfolk Chronicle 24 December 1785 © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

By 1857 the more recognisable Christmas mould was in place with a fully modern expectation of frolicking in the snow and curling up by a roaring fire as the frost glistened outside. Except as the Leeds Intelligencer pointed out on December 26th that year, British weather didn’t often play ball with the best festive traditions, a fact they put down to Christmas being 2 weeks earlier than it had been under the Julian calendar.

Leeds Intelligencer - Saturday 26 December 1857 © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Leeds Intelligencer – Saturday 26 December 1857 © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

The Lemington Spa Courier was concerned about where Christmas had come from and in its Midwinter editorial on December 21 1895, looked back at how the Yule log got its name.

Leamington Spa Courier - Saturday 21 December 1895 © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Leamington Spa Courier – Saturday 21 December 1895 © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

One thing that’s clear, looking back through the archive, is that Christmas present is never quite as good as Christmas past. Everyone looked back, except of course the Scientific Pig.

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