The Victorian era, distinguished by the industrial revolution and technological and societal changes it brought forth, did much to transform the way people in the UK lived and worked. It also helped to shape the image of a classic British Christmas.
Though present across Europe much earlier, the Christmas tree was first popularised in the UK by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in the mid-19th century. It was the royal tree of 1848, which really promoted the tradition, when Illustrated London News published a drawing of the royal family gathered around a fir tree adorned with burning candles.
Christmas trees haven't changed much since the Victorian times, although, owing to the high-flammability of natural trees, candles have gone out of fashion. Today, flame-retardant artificial trees are gaining popularity, with models available in a range of colours and size to suit all homes.
Victorian crackers were invented by British confectioner Tom Smith in 1848. The Christmas cracker started out as an innovative new way of selling sweets inspired by the paper-wrapped bonbons sold in Paris. The earliest crackers were centrally wrapped packages of sweets that snapped when pulled apart. Small hats and toys were added in the late Victorian times and remain on our table today.
Victorian mince pies that grace today's Christmas parties are loosely based on those enjoyed during Tudor times - large, savoury 'Christmas pies' made from minced beef, spices and dried fruits. During the 19th century mixes without meat gained popularity among the higher classes, leading to the sweet, festive treat we know and love today.
For any but the wealthiest in early Victorian society, gifts were a luxury not to be afforded. In the early Victorian era the majority of children's toys were handmade and expensive, and so often restricted to only the most affluent families. The industrial revolution in the UK changed this with the introduction of mass production for the very first time, paving the way for the first semi-affordable dolls, games and clockwork toys.
Today, it is not considered unusual, especially in the realms of secret Santa, to buy gifts for people you dislike or don't even know - which ultimately leads to unwanted, useless gifts. A recent survey suggested that up to 84% of people have received a gift at Christmas they don't want - and only 9% are willing to admit it.
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