Wednesday, November 20, 2013

CHS Sponsors A Dickens of a Christmas

Charles Dicken’s, the author of "A Christmas Carol," embraced what he called his Carol Philosophy, - "a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of other people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys." With this idea, is it not surprising that his writing, combined with the reign of Queen Victoria, helped to ignite many of the Christmas traditions we celebrate today. 

As part of several Cavendish Historical Society (CHS) projects (Young Historians, Hands on History and Honoring Our Heritage) we will be offering a series of workshops at the Cavendish Town Elementary School (CTES) in December- “A Dickens of a Christmas.”

This theme was chosen as many of the people who came to Cavendish in the 1800s were English; the origins of many of our Christmas traditions stem from the Victorian era; and the children were the ones who would start preparing months in advance for the holiday, making many of the ornaments for the tree.

Each grade will be doing something different: gilding pine cones, creating fortune walnuts, cornucopias,  and paper flowers and collecting greens from school property for swags and center pieces.

In true Victorian era fashion, CHS is seeking donations of the following:
-       Scraps of ribbon, lace
-       Gold, silver or white paint
-       Inexpensive paint brushes
-       Glitter
-       Old Christmas Cards
-       Glass vases for centerpieces.

If you have items to donate, they can be dropped off at the school office, or bring them to the CHS booth at the Nov. 30 Holiday Fair (Saturday), which is from 9-3 at CTES. If you would like to help with the various workshops, please call 802-226-7807 or e-mail 

Below are resources to help you learn more about the Victorian Christmas. 

• The Victorian House: The extent and type of decorations would have depended on income and the year (the era lasted from 1837 to 1901). While the Royal family’s tree was resplendent with lots of bows, ribbons, and lush ornaments, the average family tree would have reflected the talents of the children of the family, what was available in Mom’s scrap basket and what grew in the area. With the advent of the industrial age, glass ornaments became popular and fairly affordable for families, still their trees would have contained paper chains, garlands of popcorn and holly berries, cornucopias made from heavy paper, painted pine cones and the traditional gilded walnuts. The latter were opened on New Year’s Day to yield a fortune.

Wreaths, swags and centerpieces made from local greens, fruit, nuts, bows and whatever else was available adorned the various rooms in the house. While small presents were hung on the tree, the gift was the Christmas feast itself. 

• Christmas in New England: It is unclear how the first settlers in Cavendish celebrated Christmas in the late 1700’s. Puritans and Calvinists did not observe Christmas-thinking it was too close to the Catholic pageantry they wanted to avoid or too much like the Druids. However, the earliest settlers of our town were Baptist and Universalists. The latter group celebrated Christmas at this time. Some Baptists of that era would have celebrated in manners similar to the Universalists and others would have viewed it as a day of prayer and fasting. In 1659 Christmas was banned in Massachusetts. With new arrivals from Europe, particularly England, the ban was lifted in 1681 but it wasn’t until 1865 that Christmas was made an “official holiday in New England. There are interesting accounts of conflicts of Irish and Catholic people in New England who wanted Christmas Day off, but their employers thought otherwise.
It is interesting to note that “A Night Before Christmas” was first published in 1823 in Troy, NY. This poem, which provided America with its idea of Santa Claus, was heavily based on the Dutch traditions of that era.

Make Your Own Victorian Christmas: This BBC series includes activities, history, and links to their series “The Victorian Farm at Christmas.” 

“A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens, published in 1843, helped to popularize the holiday both in England and the United States. 
-       The Musical full production from 2004. Considered to be 98% accurate to the book 

• Other Dickens Christmas stories. Several to consider include:

• First Christmas Card: The first card was sent in 1843, when Sir Henry Cole decided he was too busy to write individual Christmas greetings. He had his friend, the painter John Horsley, design a card that he could mail instead. Learn more at

• Games were very popular during the Victorian era. After Christmas dinner, the family would often play a variety of different games. Check the following resources:

• Caroling: The Victorian era saw the revival of the medieval tradition of caroling. Many of our carols come from this era including "O Little Town of Bethlehem", "Good Christian Men Rejoice", "Silent Night", "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear", "Away in a Manger", "We Three King,” "Jingle Bells," and “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”

No comments:

Post a Comment