Monday, December 12, 2011

A Victorian Christmas




Santa Claus first made an appearance in British society during Queen Victoria’s reign when the wealthy middle class generated by the industrial revolution changed the face of Christmas forever.
Father Christmas was originally part of an old English midwinter festival, normally dressed in green, a sign of the returning spring. The stories of St. Nicholas (Sinter Klaas in Holland) came via Dutch settlers to America in the 17th Century. From the 1870's Sinter Klass became known in Britain as Santa Claus with his bag full of gifts and toys distributed by reindeer and sleigh. 

Inspired by Charles Dickens Christmas Carol published in 1843, the wealthy gave money and gifts to the poor at Christmas. Christmas Day and Boxing Day became holidays. Boxing Day was so named because the poor opened the boxes containing gifts and money from their wealthy benefactors. The railways allowed those now living and working in the cities to return to the country for Christmas.
 With factories came mass production, which produced less expensive games, dolls, books and clockwork toys than the handmade variety. Children of poorer families might have found an apple, orange and a few nuts in their Christmas stocking, which became popular from around 1870.

Turkeys originated from America and had been in Britain for hundreds of years before the Victorian era but along with chicken, they were too expensive at the beginning of Queen Victoria’s reign. Roast beef was traditional fare in northern England and in the south goose was eaten. Queen Victoria and family in 1840 enjoyed both beef and a royal roast swan or two. By the end of the century most people feasted on turkey for their Christmas dinner.

 The "Penny Post" was first introduced in Britain in 1840 by Rowland Hill. The idea was simple, a penny stamp paid for the postage of a letter or card to anywhere in Britain. This simple 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.


Queen Victoria's German husband Prince Albert 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 1840's.
 
Tom Smith, a London sweet maker in 1846 invented crackers. The original idea was to wrap his sweets in a twist of fancy colored paper, but this developed and sold much better when he added love notes (motto's), paper hats, small toys and made them go BANG!
Carol Singers and Musicians "The Waits" visited houses singing and playing the new popular carols;
1843 - O Come all ye Faithful
1848 - Once in Royal David's City
1851 - See Amid the Winters Snow
1868 - O Little Town of Bethlehem
1883 - Away in a Manger   

http://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/England-History/VictorianChristmas.htm
Images from Wikipedia

SURRENDER TO DESTINY is set in the late 19th Century


Blurb:
In Victorian London, Giovanna Russo finds herself penniless on the streets, fighting for independence in a city where a woman's choices are few. London with its smoggy, dark alleyways is a dangerous place for a girl to be, but now it's got more personal, someone wants her dead.
When Blair Dunleavy, a wealthy, Irish gentleman sees Gina Russo in her stepfather's painting, he includes her in his plans for the perfect life. A wife in Ireland and a mistress in London. But the best laid plans …
PG Excerpt: LONDON 1890
Gina Russo looked up at the attic window where driving rain had caused a leak to form. It dripped down onto the floorboards, forming a pool at her stepfather's feet. He seemed completely unaware of it, but then, when he was painting, the building could burn down around him.
"You must move your easel, Milo," she ordered him, placing her hands on her hips. "Your trousers will get wet and in this miserable, moldy climate, you'll catch your death."
He looked up blankly, paintbrush poised above the canvas where he painted a still life. "But, the light, Gina!"
"I do not intend to be orphaned in this cold-hearted city. What would I do without you?"
He laughed and wiped his brush on a cloth, then threw it down onto a table piled with brushes and half-squeezed tubes of paint. "You have made a good point. You're not just pretty, my girl, you've got something up here," he tapped his forehead.
She helped him move his things away then ran to place a bowl under the drip.
"When will you pose for me again, Gina? I have great hopes for the last painting I did."
"When you have sold another painting and we can afford some coal," she said firmly. "I am not stripping off in this cold. And we need decent food."
"Aah. I can taste a tender turkey breast stuffed with sweet Italian sausage and chestnuts. That would be most welcome."
"We shall be eating your Still Life with Apples, Milo, long before that." Gina watched as he settled at his easel once more, and pick up his brush. There would be no more conversation for the afternoon.
She grabbed the broom and began to sweep the floor at the far end of the room. She worked to warm herself. She'd swept the floor that morning, but no matter how many times she cleaned it, it always looked dirty. Work also helped to clear her head. She was constantly thinking up schemes to leave horrid, foggy London. She had been thirteen years old when her mother brought her to England, old enough to remember the sunny days and green hills of Tuscany.
She turned to study the bowl of wizened fruit and vase of wilting flowers she had purchased from the market that morning for Milo to paint. Surely, the sun-ripened fruit of her homeland was sweeter. Her mother had been like a delicate flower, she had not thrived in an English winter. She hated the cold and fog. She was fond of saying that Italians knew how to live and the men knew how to love.
It was certainly true that the Englishmen who pursued Gina had money where their hearts should be. They knew nothing of a love that took hold of you, mind, body, and soul. To them she would be an acquisition, someone they could flaunt in front of their friends and boast about in their clubs. She would have none of it. She had promised her mother.
When her mother had married Milo and came to England, she had become a much sought after artist's model. Even after her death, Gina and Milo remained loyal to their friends of the demi-world, the shadow world of fellow artists, models, writers, thespians, courtesans and musicians, through which the upper classes wandered, paying for anything they desired. It could be an exciting world, but had a dark side of despair, poverty, ruin and untimely death.
Her mother had died of inflammation of the lungs at thirty-six. She was already ailing when she married Milo, fifteen years her elder. She knew he would take care of Gina after she was gone. Even when her health was failing, she would drag Gina to church every Sunday. Her final words still echoed in Gina's ears. "We have a saying in Italy, sweet child. You never forget your first love. I loved your father and if only he'd lived.... No matter how hard life gets, don't ever be tempted to sell your body, for that will destroy your soul. Remember you are a good Christian girl. Promise me!"
Gina touched the hair-bracelet on her wrist, made with her mother's lovely golden hair. When she had asked her mother about her father, she would always turn away. "Better that you don't know." Her standard reply left Gina wondering what made her so sad and reluctant to reveal the past. Had her mother and father been married?
"Bah," Gina said, swatting at some imaginary speck of dirt. She was sick of being grindingly poor. The struggle to live tore the heart out of you and dragged you down. She hated London, its miles of rat infested, filthy cobblestone alleys and shabby brick and stucco houses, the noise and the smells and the dirt. She hated feeling desperately sad for the tatty, barefoot children. She hated her cheap dresses, and longed to have something store-bought and pretty. She hated their ugly, leaky attic rooms that no amount of cleaning could turn into a home, most of all.
A block away, the street prostitutes trolled between the gin shop and the pawnshop, younger than she, some of them. Green from the country, they quickly become addicted to the drink and their gentle eyes turned hard. Lying in bed at night, she'd listen to them out there under the gaslights. Dancing, drinking, and singing into the small hours. The sounds of their hollow laughter made her want to weep and pull a pillow over her head.
As she put away the broom, Gina's thoughts turned to Milo. How did he produce such beauty in his paintings, in a place like this? She put her hand to her mouth. How could she be so ungrateful?
"Did you say something, mio caro?" Milo asked, adding a highlight to a painted apple. The apple had become his signature and appeared in most of his paintings. His painted apple was so much fresher and redder than the one in the bowl. Perhaps that was his secret, he saw life through rose-colored glasses.
"No, Milo," she said, going to stir the minestrone soup that with bread and cheese, would have to do them until the end of the week.
"You're a good daughter, Gina," he said absently.

Maggi

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