Christmas History 33. This year I thought it might be interesting to find articles about Christmas from newspapers 150 years ago. That takes us back to the year 1868. Victoria was on the throne and, as of 3rd December William Gladstone was Prime Minister. It was the year that The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins was published. On 10th December the world’s first traffic lights were installed in London. Earlier in the year, that great city had witnessed the last public hanging in Britain. 1868 was also the year that helium was first discovered, making future balloon sellers everywhere very happy.
So that was the idea: Christmas 150 years ago. Unfortunately it turns out that 1868 was a year for unseasonable weather:
London, Christmas-day. In place of bright, bracing Christmas weather, we have mild, muggy days and nights, with rain that raineth everyday, and mud galore. It is anything but the traditional Christmas, which makes clear, blazing fires and warm rooms acceptable and gives an additional edge to every appetite. No doubt geese and turkeys will disappear readily enough on countless dinner tables to-day; but the frost and snow, which made the holly glisten and made a comfortable fireside twice as comfortable, are not with us. Setting aside this sentimental feeling in favour of an old fashioned Christmas, perhaps it is very good thing that we are not “snowed up,” and that King Frost has never had a chance of reigning this winter. “Blessed is he that considereth the poor;” and if we consider the poor, we shall certainly not in their interest wish them a cold Christmas.
That quote is taken from Sheffield Daily Telegraph, on Saturday 26th December 1868. On the same day the Western Times ran with the following article, recognising the silver lining to a mild Christmas:
Christmas Eve, Good Constant Reader, is a hallowed time, and we greet thee with the compliments that attend it in the sincerity of a spirit that hath ever enjoyed its festivities. To thee and thine A MERRY CHRISTMAS! If we have Christmas compliments flying about us we have not Christmas weather abroad. The air is mild, the sun shining with the fitfulness and the temperature of an April day, and we pass the morning at work without the necessity of a fire fact which we put on record as evidence to support the new doctrine of the change of climate in Merry England. Instead of frost and snow, the sharp bracing weather that used to send the youngsters to the ice for exercise, and the old to the chimney corner for warmth—we have now mild, open, Spring-like weather. The husbandman can pursue his labour in the field and the builder his work in the open air. Bating heavy showers of occasional rain there is nothing in the temperature to stop out-door work, and there are no “frozen out gardeners” to make the welkin ring with their wailings—no labourers parading the town with their wail for work to do. Our Soup Kitchen hath not been appealed to for the aid which it is established to render to the suffering poor— nor is there a word of season as to the “wants” with which we are accustomed to associate the advent of Christmas. There is no pressure of customary “want” to stimulate the charitable, and for the nonce we are likely to have the Christmas season open, genial, and kindly to the poor. But if there be no call for “charity” so much the better for the exercise of neighbourly kindnesses. The poor are always poor and Christmas bounty is always acceptable. Better is it to have it dispensed at a time when it is all bounty than to feel that what is given is but mere fender against pressing necessity and pinching want. Whatever thou now doest in the way of “seasonable benevolence,” Good Constant, is a real addition to the usual means of the industrious poor —and so much the better is it for both parties—the receiver hath the more joy in the greater enjoyment, and the giver the double blessing in feeling that he is aided in his spirit in the milder seasons vouchsafed to us all by a Beneficent Providence. It will take the poets some years before they realise the fact that “Christmas weather” is not now to be expected at Christmas time.
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