Kate Williams writing in the Mail on Sunday today.
The article was part of a write up on the upcoming Christmas edition of the TV series 'Cranford' written by Elizabeth Gaskell. The Christmas traditions that Gaskell praised were invented in her lifetime. At the time of her birth in 1810, the day was hardly observed and cards and gifts were not exchanged.
After their marriage in 1840, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, who came from Germany, began celebrating Christmas in the German style - with a rich meal, a decorated tree and garlands of holly around the house. Their subjects followed suit.By the middle of the century, families had a fir tree in their parlour, adorned with dried fruits, gingerbread and glass ornaments.
In 1843 Sir Henry Cole, weary of greetings letters, decided to create a seasonal card. His idea caught on and in 1880 more than 11 million Christmas cards were sent.
On December 25th, after a church service, Victorian families dined on goose or roast beef. For dessert, they tucked into plum pudding stuffed with silver coins.
In the evening, there were parlour games and carol singing, with roasted chestnuts and perhaps mulled wine for the adults.Until Santa Claus became fashionable in the 1870's, children received gifts from their parents, dolls, clockwork toys and books.
The luckiest children had Christmas crackers, invented by confectioner Tom Smith in 1847, after his crackling fire inspired him to combine wrapped sweets with a popping sound.
Even the poor celebrated, eating a meat pie, building a fire for the evening and exchanging cheap gifts such as hand carved toys or nuts.
By the time Gaskell died in 1865, the Christmas traditions we know today had become firmly entrenched in British culture.