A Very Victorian Christmas – Part 2
That’s right, the Christmas cracker is another holiday tradition first enacted during the 19th century, though it certainly went through a process of evolution before it became the snappy contraption that we have with our festive feasts today. It was first invented by a London confectioner by the name of Tom Smith in 1840 when initially they were simple sweets wrapped in colourful paper. Later, inspired by the newly introduced fortune cookie from the Chinese culture Smith later added mottos and jokes into the wrapping. Smith constantly looked for new ways to update his product, whilst sitting one day by the fire he got another idea, he was startled by a particularly loud crackle of the burning log, this is how he came up with the idea of adding a snap to the cracker. By 1870 the product was very popular and Smith then decided to add silver charms in place of sweets. An incredible 13 million Christmas crackers had been sold by the 1900.
Panto goes back way further than the 19th Century, it actually finds its origins in the time of the Romans when masked mimes would entertain the people with the tales of the time (presumably with less Widow Twanky involved). As time went on, we saw the introduction of what were known as ‘mumming’ plays during the medieval period, this would be a production that an entire village would partake in and where those ‘Oh yes he is!’ moments were first brought in. Musicals were all the rage during the Victorian times however and as we know, these folks loved to rework a tradition to keep it relevant. Songs, dancing and acrobatics were added to performances and shows were designed to involve and entertain the whole family. It was also during these times that we first saw the panto season first become a Christmastime staple, the season would start on Boxing Day and run for weeks. Pantomime shows were perfect for entertaining the children of the richer families of society once the merry run up to Christmas day had passed. At the time poor children would wander the streets wearing advertisement boards to bring people in to the theatre, thankfully now it’s a less exclusive experience however theatre still has a way to go in order to be available to people of all backgrounds.
I don’t know about you but to me boxing day always seemed like a strangely named day with no explanation to why it was named as such? “Perhaps men used to celebrate by having a short bout of fisticuffs?” I would think to myself. Well did you know that it’s actually another addition to the festive season first created by those industrious Victorians? Today we use the day to enjoy our gifts or see family or friends that we may not have had the chance to see on Christmas day but initially this was a day for the staff in large rich households to also have a day off and enjoy the season, it was named ‘boxing day’ as this was the day which the working class would open their boxes of gifts which they had been given by the higher classes.