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Guest column: Thank the Victorians for Christmas as we know it

The Christmas craft fair is at Gainsborough Old Hall this weekend
The Christmas craft fair is at Gainsborough Old Hall this weekend

It’s that time of year again when for us at Gainsborough Old Hall the Christmas count down really begins.

Join us this weekend (November 25 and 26 ) for one of the country’s leading craft fairs set out in our beautiful manor house where the traditions of Victorian Christmas will kick off your festive season.

Craftspeople will bring a wealth of gifts and homewares to make your Christmas shopping a delight.

Warm yourself with a glass of hot punch and a mince pie in front of our roaring fires as the musicians entertain you in our medieval kitchens.

But why a Victorian Christmas?

For thousands of years people around the world have enjoyed midwinter festivals.

No era in history, however, has influenced the way in which we celebrate Christmas, quite as much as the Victorians.

It’s hard to imagine now, but at the beginning of the 19th century Christmas was hardly celebrated.

Many businesses did not even consider it a holiday.

However by the end of the century it had become the biggest annual celebration and took on the form that we recognise today.

Many attribute the change to Queen Victoria, and it was her marriage to the German-born Prince Albert that introduced some of the most prominent aspects of Christmas .

These included the sending of Christmas cards.

The ‘Penny Post’ was first introduced in Britain in 1840 by Rowland Hill.

A penny stamp paid for the postage of a letter or card to anywhere in Britain.

This idea paved the way for the sending of the first Christmas cards.

Sir Henry Cole tested the water in 1843 by printing a thousand cards for sale in his art shop in London at one shilling each.

The popularity of sending cards was helped along when in 1870 a halfpenny postage rate was introduced as a result of the efficiencies brought about by the railways.

Prince Albert also helped to make the Christmas tree as popular in Britain as they were in his native Germany, when he brought one to Windsor Castle in the 1840s.

Elsewhere, crackers were invented Tom Smith, a London sweet maker in 1846.

The original idea was to wrap his sweets in a twist of fancy coloured paper, but this developed and sold much better when he added love notes, paper hats, small toys and made them go bang.

And some of our favourite Christmas carols were written during Queen Victoria’s reign, including O Come all ye Faithful, Once in Royal David’s City, O Little Town of Bethlehem and Away in a Manger.

Will you be joining us this weekend to sing a couple round the fire?

Victoria Mason-Hines is site manager at Gainsborough Old Hall.