November 06, 2013
Imagine a world without Christmas: What would the retail sector do come December? What would we hang from our pine trees? When would ‘The Doctor’
get recast I mean regenerate? Most importantly, what would our corporate events be like? If it wasn’t for the Victorians it wouldn’t be so hard to imagine at all. Many of the Christmas traditions we hold so dearly only took root during the reign of Queen Victoria - In fact, as recently as the early 19th Century, Christmas was barely celebrated at all.
Christmas cards, Christmas trees, Christmas crackers – all indispensable parts of the Quintessential British Christmas that didn’t feature in the Quintessential British Christmas until the mid-19th Century. But what about the entertainment? I am getting to that. Because just as the Victorians made a huge impact on many of our most beloved Christmas Traditions, they also introduced a few Christmas Entertainment Ideas that endure to this day. Read on for a few of our favourites...
A Christmas Carol - Costumed Characters
It’s impossible to talk about Victorian Christmas without bringing up Charles Dickens. I mean, look – I tried it here and I failed. Dickens’ seminal seasonal story is responsible for popularising many of the traditions we maintain to this day (and apparently inspires a desire to make mawkish alliterative sentences) but it also contains a number of characters that have become inextricably linked with Christmas. The miserly Scrooge, the ghostly Jacob Marley (and his brother Robert), the Ghosts of Christmas Past Present and Yet to Come – all instantly recognisable characters who are perfect for meet and greet duties or photo ops with guests.
The Victorians didn’t invent the Christmas Carol but they pretty much made it what it is today. Advances in printing technology during the previous century meant that it was relatively easy to publish and distribute books of popular Christmas Carols, many of which were words from older Christmas songs and hymns set to jauntier tunes. Carols like The Holly and the Ivy, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, 12 Days of Christmas and Deck the Halls all found popularity during the Victorian era and still evoke festive feelings all these years later. It goes without saying then, that Costumed Carollers are the perfect way to capture the spirit of a Victorian Christmas… but I went and said it anyway.
Like many of the entertainment ideas on this list – the Brass Band as we recognise it today dates back to the 19th Century when the advances in instrument, design and manufacture along with rapidly growing industrial communities meant that instruments were easier to play and it was easier to find people to play with. Many bands raised money by performing in public spaces and they soon found that the public were far more generous if they started performing Christmas pieces around Christmastime – hence the longstanding tradition of brass ensembles performing in town centres. Our brass ensemble makes for an excellent soundtrack to Victorian Christmas events and are available in sizes to suit all events and budgets.
Victorian Street Performers
Much as it was for the brass bands that flocked to the shopping districts to earn money, Christmas became a lucrative time for Street Performers. Thanks to the aforementioned advances in printing technology – playing cards became a mainstay of the magician’s arsenal and street magicians became a regular sight in crowded streets. (You can read more about the history of magic here.) The huge popularity of the circus in Victorian Britain also meant that there was no shortage of circus performers looking for a quick buck (or shilling?) come Christmastime with mimes, jugglers and clowns featuring heavily. Also, while not a street performer as such – Victorian pickpockets are both a nice touch at events and a clever nod to Dickens’ Oliver Twist. Find out more about Victorian Circus Performers from the V&A.
As we mentioned earlier in the post – Christmas wasn’t really celebrated until the 19th Century and gift giving certainly wasn’t as big a deal as it is now. As a matter of fact, gifts were traditionally exchanged at New Year until the Victorians started to include presents as part of their Christmas celebrations. Gifts were modest at first – fruit, nuts, sweets and the like – but as Christmas grew in importance through the 19th Century, so too did the gifts. Toys and games in particular became big business and due to the industrial revolution, toys were able to be mass produced in factories rather than hand crafted. Though we’re not suggesting you encourage your event guests to get down on the floor and play with a train set, a few Victorian parlour games can make for fun interactive elements and a few well placed Victorian toys work brilliantly as props for theming purposes.
For more information on booking Victorian entertainment for Christmas parties and corporate events, head over to our contact page and get in touch.
By Garreth Owen