How to have a Victorian Christmas: 8 simple steps

Take a step back in time and be inspired by the traditional celebrations of the 19th century

victorian christmas a family sat around a dinner table having Christmas dinner
(Image credit: Getty)

We all know that the Victorians practically invented Christmas, from the decorated Christmas tree to our favourite sweet treats – so if you fancy learning more about the Christmas traditions of days gone by, then you're in the right place.

If you're looking for more decor inspiration, take a look at these 15 traditional Christmas decorating ideas or be inspired by these 10 beautiful period homes dressed up for the festive season

1. Buy (or make) gifts

victorian illustrations of children hanging stockings by a fireplace

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Victorian Christmas presents tended to be small handmade Christmas gifts – think fruit, nuts, games or dolls, books and clockwork toys – and were hung on the tree instead of being stacked underneath. Small decorative gift bags are perfect for hanging small gifts to the tree, and also serve as beautiful ornaments. 

2. Create a wreath

black and white etching of a victorian front door with wreath

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While the Victorians didn’t invent wreaths, they wholeheartedly embraced the concept, using evergreen foliage. 

You can make your own authentic Victorian creation by creating a form from malleable twigs – silver birch and hazel, or vine like honeysuckle or grape, work best. Then secure with wire or twine before covering with fresh greenery. Fir, ivy, holly, yew and bay were favoured by the Victorians. Attach a ribbon to the top to facilitate hanging and decorate. Add some eye-catching colour by intertwining fresh fruit, dried orange slices, bird feathers, rosehips, holly berries and pine cones. Attach with florist’s wire. Then, hang on the door to welcome guests with festive cheer.

If you're looking for more wreath ideas take a look at our tutorial on how to make a Christmas wreath.

3. Write cards

victorian festive illustration

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Civil servant and inventor Henry Cole created the first Christmas card in 1843, but it was through the introduction of the half penny stamp, in 1870, that sending cards became affordable for all and thus a Yuletide custom. Aside from the usual winter scenes, robins and happy families, more gruesome Victorian cards featuring murderous frogs, mice roasting a cat, and dead robins were also popular, although perhaps they won’t spread the same festive cheer today…

4. Decorate the tree

Victorian women decorate the christmas tree

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Brought into the royal household by Prince Albert, the German tradition of the classic fir Christmas tree quickly swept the nation. Without electricity, candles were used to illuminate the branches. To get a similar effect, candle-style electric lights offer rustic looks without the fire risk. 

More natural, traditional decorations included raffia ribbon tied around bundles of cinnamon sticks, garlands of dried fruits such as apples and oranges, and pine cones. As well as creating a beautiful aesthetic, these decorations produce a fabulous festive aroma of fruit and spices. Hang your small gift bags and other handmade ornaments to complete the look. 

Don't miss these Christmas tree decoration ideas for inspiration.

5. Prepare the feast

watercolour of victorian woman with Christmas pudding

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At the heart of any festive celebration is the Christmas Day feast. The famous mince pie was a rather meatier affair in the 18th century, and filled with beef, mutton and ox-tongue alongside the usual raisins, dates, nutmeg and honey. The traditional plum pudding remained sweet, but would had been served alongside the Christmas dinner rather than afterwards. 

Turkey remained the central meat but would have been boiled rather than roasted to prevent it from becoming dry. Nesselrode cream (a mix of cream, chestnuts, sugar and gelatin) was a popular alternative to Christmas pudding

If you're looking for some Victorian baking inspiration take a look at these traditional Victorian puddings everyone has to try

6. Drink and be merry

victorian family sat around a dinner table having Christmas dinner

(Image credit: Getty)

No Victorian celebration would have been complete without a boozy punch. Combinations of sugar, boiling water, spices and lemon juice, mixed with a healthy dose of gin or rum, was a popular concoction, served in small glasses.

7. Go carolling

victorian christmas scene with carol singers

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Many of today’s favourite Christmas carols originate from the Victorian era, such as ‘I Saw Three Ships’, ‘Oh Come All Ye Faithful’, ‘Deck the Halls’, ‘We Three Kings’ and ‘Away in a Manger’. For many, carols were sung around a piano or organ in the parlour, and was a central focus at Christmas parties. Others could purchase a cheaper ‘cob’ organ, which, like a music box, played music when turned. 

8. Play games and enjoy the festivities

watercolour of boys having a snowball fight

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Christmas Day is not complete without some festive frivolities and the Victorians were no exception, particularly after a few glasses of punch. Games included ‘Are You There Moriarty?’, which involved two blindfolded players hitting each other, and ‘Shadow Buff’, where a person sits behind a sheet with a candle and then other members have to guess who they are. 

Games were also accompanied by a range of forfeits, although these were often a thinly disguised opportunity to kiss people they weren’t married to, or partake in less proper behaviours. 

More Victorian inspiration:

Holly is Sub-editor and Features Writer for Period Living. She is busy putting her stamp on a pre-furnished flat by making cushions and upcycling second-hand finds.