Tag Archives: Christmas

Christmas Illustrated

Special Collections holds bound volumes of the Illustrated London News, which was published from 1842 to 2003. A contributor to the paper’s huge success, and a big part of its enduring charm, lies in the lavish illustrations. The early issues featured numerous wood engravings, and photographs were added from the 1890s onwards, forming a visual record of all the topics of interest of the day.

During the nineteenth century the paper began adding a special Christmas supplement, with varied content including poetry, stories, and articles concerning Christmas celebrations in different times and places. These supplements were enhanced by full-page illustrations on a range of topics.

Engraving of man and child under mistletoe

Detail from “Under the Mistletoe”, December 19 1863.

 

Engraving of procession "Bringing in the boar's head",

Detail from “Bringing in the boar’s head”, from December 26 1846.

The tradition of a Christmas pageant and procession involving a boar’s head is thought to have been popularised following its use in Oxford, and over time expanded to include a wide range of festive characters, acting, and singing. The boar’s head carol is still sung in many places including Queen’s College Oxford.

Many of the covers of the London Illustrated News Christmas supplements can be seen via http://www.iln.org.uk/somexmaseditions.htm.

The Ghost of Christmas Past

A blog post by Jemima, Library Graduate Trainee, in which Charles Dickens looks back on the time when Christmas was officially banned in England

The Victorian writer, Charles Dickens, authored the well-loved novel The Christmas Carol whose popularity has not diminished over the centuries. Innumerable adaptations have been produced for both stage and screen since its publication; whilst the characters created by Dickens such as Scrooge and his “catch-phrase” Bah-Humbug! remain deeply embedded in the popular culture which surrounds the celebration of Christmas. Dickens has often been described as the man who invented Christmas and whilst this has been contested, he certainly contributed a great deal to the traditions which surround it in Britain. However, Dickens’ contribution to Christmas does not end here; as well as penning several other Christmas stories Dickens also published various articles on the history of Christmas in England and observations on the traditional ways in which Christmas was celebrated around the world. These can be found in All The Year Round, a literary magazine founded and owned by Dickens. Brunel Library holds every edition published between the year 1869 and 1879 in Special Collections. The range of topics these volumes contain are so diverse and truly fascinating, they are well worth an exploration, whatever your subject.

All the Year Round journal

DIckens’ All the Year Round

In December 1870, All The Year Round included an interesting piece on the prohibition of the celebration of Christmas in the 17th century and the methods, which seem ridiculous to us now, which the Puritans attempted to enforce this ban. Dickens paints a vivid picture of the general unrest, the riots and the acts of rebellion and cleverly satirises the entire situation in the way he is famed for. To give some background to the 20 years in which Christmas was banished from the calendar; the first half of 17th century England was ruled by a Puritan parliament, headed by Oliver Cromwell, who put huge amounts of time and effort into reforming the moral and spiritual character of the country. The festival of Christmas came under their firing line as it was not seen as a Christian or religious festival for two main reasons. Firstly, it was a time of feasting, drinking and extravagance – all of these things were looked down upon by Puritans who advocated fasting and sobriety. Secondly, Christmas was a surviving Catholic festival and the Catholic Church was highly unpopular and viewed as a heretical strain of Christianity by the Puritans. As the Puritans could find no Biblical instruction that Christ’s birth be celebrated and as the celebrations themselves were seen as totally incongruent with Christian morality, the Puritan parliament felt no scruple in abolishing Christmas in 1642 and ordering that it should instead be “observed as a day of fasting and of humiliation.” (Dickens, All the Year Round Vol. 5, December 1870 p. 101).

All the Year RoundDickens highlights the absolute absurdity of the situation in his description of what measures the Puritans would take to enforce this ban and what actions they would consider as breaching their legislation. He writes that on Christmas day officials would search the entire city of London, looking for “superstitious pies and porridge, ransacking pots, robbing ovens, and stripping spits” (ibid.) believing that these things were wicked and against Christianity. “Holly, ivy, mistletoe, bay and rosemary were accounted branches of superstition. To roast a sirloin of beef, to touch a collar of brawn, to bake a pie, to put a plum in a pottage-pot, to burn a big candle, or to lay one log more upon the fire for Christmas’ sake was enough to make a man be suspected and taken for a Christian and punished accordingly.” (Dickens, All the Year Round Vol. 5, December 1870, p. 104). Not only were the traditional, secular means of celebrating Christmas prohibited, but religious observances were equally unacceptable. All churches were ordered to close over Christmas and anyone who tried to preach or give a sermon would be served with an arrest warrant. Despite the strict enforcements behind Parliament’s Christmas ban, year after year the people of England would find a way to celebrate and make merry one way or another. This rebellion could be small and personal and consist of making a Christmas pudding or singing a carol. On the other hand there were often larger, public rebellions. Riots would break out and mobs would form and attack the officials working for the Puritan parliament. Charles Dickens describes an incident in 1647 involving forbidden festive decorations and how they were fiercely fought for by the people in the local area. He tells us that Cornhill conduit had been dressed in evergreens and holly and ivy and rosemary and bays which were set on top of the tall building. The city marshall and his men were set to pull down the decorations, but the decorated building was defended by local lads, who attacked the marshall and caused his men to flee for their lives. On receiving report of this, the magistrate was scandalised and went down himself on his horse but met with the same fate. The yelling mobs scared his horse and it galloped away with him still mounted looking very undignified. Although some were seized and sent to prison for the day, there was still a feeling of triumph as the Christmas decorations remained upon the building. (Dickens, All the Year Round Vol 5, December 1870 p. 101).

Happy Christmas

ILN xmas tree

Did you know that Christmas trees only became popular in this country in Victorian times? In 1848 the Illustrated London News published a picture of Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and their children enjoying their Christmas celebrations around a tree, and the idea caught on.

Christmas trees were originally popular in Germany, but their use only spread to other countries in the 19th century when they became popular with the nobility and spread via the royal families of Europe. In the UK there had been a tradition of decorating homes with evergreen branches, but the idea of an entire fir tree in the house was new. Victoria, with her German relatives, had grown up used to the idea of a fir tree at Christmas, and this was further encouraged by Albert after their marriage. The idea gained popularity, and the picture in the Illustrated London News  gave a massive boost to the popularity of Christmas trees. Soon, advertisements for them began to appear in newspapers. Nowadays, the British Christmas Tree Growers Association grows approximately 8 million trees for sale each year.

The Illustrated London News is part of the Special Collections periodicals collection.

Happy Christmas from Special Collections! You can check when we are open after Christmas on our Special Collections guide.

library xmas tree