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In pictures

Christmas at home

Written by Charlotte Goodhart, digital and social media editor
03/12/2020

Whether you put up your tree in October and finished your shopping not long after, or haven't started either yet, there's no doubt that this Christmas will be a little different to others.

How we celebrate Christmas at home says a lot about our taste but also shows how technology, fashion and society have changed over the years.

Two people sat on a sofa talking with a Christmas tree between them Christmas at Barrie and Marion Liss’s home in Stafford, 1980. Object number 763/2012-64

Setting the table

While 25 December often involves a marathon of eating, Christmas Dinner is the centrepiece.

Turkey may seem like it has long been a staple of the meal but it's actually a relatively new addition. Before the 1950s it was a luxury that most families could not afford.

Another vital element of the Christmas table is the cracker.

The first Christmas crackers were created in 1847 by Tom Smith to promote sweets. He was supposedly inspired by the sound of a log crackling in a fire.

Black and white photo of two people carving a turkey Valerie and Tom H preparing a turkey for Christmas dinner at home, 1958. Object number 254/2010-21
Box of red and green Christmas crackers Harlequin brand crackers printed with characters from Enid Blyton's 'Noddy' books, manufactured by Batger and Co. Ltd. in London c.1961-68. Object number 169/1999
An adult and two children pulling Christmas crackers at a table Muriel Scagell and her family pulling Christmas crackers at home in Middlesex, 1958. © Scagell family. Object number 150/2010-10

Decorating the house

Another Christmas tradition introduced by the Victorians is putting up and decorating a tree indoors.

The practice arrived with German members of the royal family and was made popular by Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria.

In the 1900s artificial trees were in vogue because they made much less mess than real trees and could be reused every year.

Children looking at Christmas gifts underneath a tree Jim and Jayne at home in Pinner, 1962. Object number 168/2011-10
Silver Christmas tree bauble in the shape of a house Christmas tree bauble made from mould-blown silvered glass in the shape of a house, 1930-40. Object number 49/1995-4-2
Silver artificial Christmas tree with baubles in different colours 'Silver Pine' aluminium Christmas tree, c.1960-70. Object number 35/1997
Three people standing together in a room with Christmas decorations Vinsia M and her two sisters in front of their Christmas decorations, 1970s. Object number 48/2008-6

Trying something new

Technological improvements led to the creation of strings of electric lights designed to decorate the tree. These were much safer than the candles that had traditionally been used. 

However, Christmas trees aren't to everyone's taste: some people prefer to put their decorations up around the house instead.

 

View out of a window with Christmas decorations on the ledge Izumi’s Christmas display on a window ledge, Isle of Dogs, 2005. Object number 201/2011-7
Christmas decorations hung from the ceiling Tony and Susan hung their decorations from the ceiling. Highgate, 1962. Object number 83/2008-101
A group of children standing in front of a Christmas tree Marion Liss described decorating her Christmas tree with white candles in her first house with her husband. On seeing the lit candles Barrie said 'are you out of your mind?' Stafford, 1967. Object number 763/2012-28

Christmas greetings

Henry Cole sent the first Christmas card in England in 1843. He printed thousands of copies of the card, which depicted his family, and sold them at the cost of a shilling each.

Sending Christmas cards grew in popularity as the price of postage decreased.

Christmas card depicting red imps pulling a wagon of gifts This card was sent from the Directors of The British Vacuum Cleaner and Engineering Co Ltd. In 1948. Object number 143/1996-13
A Christmas card decorated with floral illustrations Christmas card c.1880-1900. Object number B 490

The commercialisation of Christmas

Christmas shopping is something of a national sport, with some people starting their preparation in the sales that follow the previous year's festivities.

Victorian department stores pioneered the use of catalogues as a means of advertising to shoppers, encouraging them to buy more.

The practice continued into the 1900s, but has been swiftly overtaken with the rise of internet shopping.  

Cover of Christmas catalogue with illustration showing adult and child walking in the snow Willam Owen Catalogue of Christmas Gifts 1901-1902. Object number 38/2001
Paper carrier bag decorated with festive images Christmas carrier bag, c.1930-1950. Object number B/532

Catalogue shopping

A brief history of shopping from home.