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History of Christmas Trends

For as long as we've celebrated Christmas, trends for the celebration have come and gone, stayed, and adapted into something new. If you've ever been interested in previous festive trends or feel like bringing some back to mix up your festivities, look no further than our summary of the most significant trends of yore.

Tree Lights

The modern Christmas tree was brought to England by the Germans and popularised by Queen Victoria in 1841. Still, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the use of evergreen trees, wreaths, and garlands to symbolise eternal life was a custom of the Ancient Egyptians, Chinese, and Hebrews.

The colours we associate with Christmas, such as red and green, come from the Paradise tree, a prop in a 16th Century German play decorated with apples and candles. The idea of decorating your Christmas tree with candles lasted through the Victorian period - a precarious choice as trees become more flammable as they dry out over the Xmas period. To help prevent fires, people mounted tree candles on dished holders to catch the wax and carefully pruned the branches above the candles.

It was expensive for people other than royalty to afford candles for their trees. However, as cheaper candles were made and wealth increased, more middle-class families started sporting the decoration. By 1860 it was usual for trees to have more than one candle on them, with some having more than 12 candles lit on Christmas Day.

The trend of decorating with candles dipped in 1882 as electric lights were introduced, but many couldn't afford them until the 1930s when prices crashed.

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Instead of baubles, the first decorated trees were adorned with apples and pastries - delicious but not long-lasting.

Glass baubles were first made in Lauscha by glassblower Hans Greiner, who would make glass beaded garlands, fruits, nuts, and tin figures to decorate trees. Soon, they became so popular that skilled crafters made glass figures with clay moulds; the glass would be placed into the mould and blown into shape.

Other glassblowers in the town saw how popular these decorations were and began making their own, and most of Germany bought their decorations from Lauscha. In 1832, the future Queen Victoria, then 13, wrote about her excitement at having a tree decorated with glass ornaments. Her love for German decorations continued into her marriage to German-born Prince Albert. In 1848, after a picture of her tree was shown in a newspaper, Lauscha started to export its baubles throughout Europe.

In the 1880s, F.W. Woolworth made a fortune by importing German glass ornaments to the US. The trend quickly spread across the globe, and many countries began to mass-produce glass ornaments. Ornaments weren't given collectable status until 1973, when Hallmark Cards began producing their own baubles. Each collection of trinkets was only available during the year of release, and people began to collect them as keepsakes.

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Christmas Dinner

Getting together for a feast in winter is nothing new. Archaeologists discovered evidence that in the Neolithic period (about 7,500 years ago), people would gather for midwinter meals of pork and beef.

In Ancient Rome, they celebrated Saturnalia, a festival dedicated to the god Saturn, from 17th December, which lasted five to seven days. During this festival, Romans would gamble (which wasn't usually permitted), drink wine, give gifts, wear conical hats, and feast. As Rome came under Christian rule, many customs were absorbed into Christmas celebrations.

Turkeys were introduced to England in 1523 and were considered an exotic delicacy, so they weren't widespread. The Tudors enjoyed boar, peacock, venison, swan, and Christmas Pie (the original turducken!) instead. Goose was the choice meat for Christmas up until the 1800s, as turkeys were only enjoyed by wealthier households. It wasn't until the publication and popularity of Dickens' A Christmas Carol in 1843 that turkey saw a boom, thanks to Scrooge's newfound kindness.

Christmas Cards

The first Christmas card was sent to James VI and I in 1611. It was a hand-made card from a German physician on which he had drawn a rose. Still, it wasn't until the Victorian period that Christmas cards became commonplace, with the first commercial card commissioned in 1843. Early cards in Britain preferred fanciful designs such as fairies and flowers as a reminder of the approaching spring. However, Victorian cards weren't all flowers and rainbows.

Many Victorian cards were weird. They featured dead robins, a mouse riding on the back of a lobster, a frog dancing with a beetle, a giant walking turnip with a man's head, a man being attacked by a bear, children being attacked by wasps, and more. These odd cards were considered works of art, displayed in exhibitions, and critically reviewed.

Thankfully, this trend didn't last, and more 'normal' cards became the standard. Hallmark Cards was founded in 1913 and capitalised on the demand for personalised cards. By the time of the World Wars, cards with patriotic designs were popular, and by the 1950s, the public favoured humourous cards. All the while, cards with nostalgic or religious images rose in popularity. With the growth in technology, personal Christmas cards dropped from favour, and more E-cards were sent from 2004 onwards. Even so, the trend of writing and sending cards has never entirely gone away.

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