Where Christmas began…

This year at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds, Santa swaps his red suit for green and his grotto will transport you back to where Christmas celebrations began, in Victorian times.

Santa and friends at Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds

It seems hard to believe now but before the 19th century, Christmas was hardly celebrated and it didn’t become a public holiday until the end of the century. It is now the biggest annual celebration and we owe the Victorians for many of the festive traditions we still uphold today.

Starting with the man himself, Father Christmas was originally part of an old English midwinter festival, normally dressed in green – thought to symbolise a sign of the returning Spring. The stories of St. Nicholas (Sinter Klaas in Holland) came via Dutch settlers to America in the 17th century. From the 1870s, Sinter Klass became known in Britain as Santa Claus and with him came his unique gift and toy distribution system – reindeer and sleigh. (Source: www.historic-uk.com)

We also owe the pleasure of that colourful paper crown, tiny toy and joke that comes within the Christmas cracker, to British confectioner, Tom Smith, who in 1848 travelled to Paris and discovered bonbons. From this, he came up with the idea of a simple package filled with sweets that snapped when pulled apart. The sweets were replaced by small gifts and paper hats in the late Victorian period, and remain in this form as an essential part of a modern Christmas.

The roast turkey has its beginnings in Victorian Britain. Previously other roasted meat such as beef and goose were the centrepiece of the Christmas feast. Wealthier sections of the community added the turkey to the menu in the 19th century. It was deemed the perfect size for a middle class family gathering, and so became the dominant dish by the beginning of the 20th century. (Source: www.bbc.co.uk/history)

Come and experience the beginnings of Christmas in traditional Victorian style at Royal Armouries, Leeds. Christmas activities run from 1-23 December and Santa will visit every Saturday and Sunday.

For more information, visit our website.

Collections Up Close December

Saxony armour

In 1591, as a Christmas present for her husband, the Elector Christian I of Saxony, the Electress Sophia commissioned twelve special armours to be made for him. Unfortunately, Christian I died in September 1591 before receiving these gifts. One of the armours, a half-armour made for foot combat at the barriers, is in the Royal Armouries collection. The helmet is currently on display in the Tournament Gallery in our Leeds Museum.The armour retains its original blued finish and is etched and gilt with decoration.

Blogger: Angela Clare, Researcher