Sunday, December 07, 2014

Christmas Through Historical Objects

Recently there has been something of a craze for telling the story of certain things through material objects – the BBC series “A History of the World in 100 Objects” was a fascinating example. It got me thinking about the different object associated with Christmas through time. Here are a few I came up with:

The Yule Log

The burning of the Yule Log was said to have its origins in pre-Christian paganism and the celebration of a winter fire festival. Intriguingly it has been suggested that this Christmas tradition only started in England in the 17th century and was an import from Europe. The first reference to it was made by Robert Herrick in the 1620s when he referred to “the Christmas log,” which was a good luck charm promising prosperity and protection from evil. The tradition died out in the late 19th century because of a decline in open fires. However, it could be construed to be continued in the Buche de Noel cake on the Christmas dinner table!

The Georgian table decoration

I’m cheating here a little bit because I don’t have an original Georgian Christmas decoration to show. This is a recreation from Fairfax House in York. Fairfax House is one of the finest Georgian town houses in England and every year they hold an exhibition called the Keeping of Christmas which displays elegant decorations, extravagant dining table decorations, sugar temples and Christmas greenery. There are lots of historical Christmas decorations on show at National Trust houses around the country. I'm planning a visit to Avebury Manor and also to Lydiard Park, where they are creating a Downton-Abbey style Edwardian Christmas.

The First Christmas Card

Henry Cole, first director of the Victoria & Albert Museum and the
organiser of the Great Exhibition, sent the world’s first Christmas card in 1843. However the traditions did not catch on in a widespread commercial way until later in the 19th century. Many of the first Christmas cards were postcards.

The Christmas Ball gown

I could not resist this gorgeous retro-looking Christmas ball gown that is now in the Chicago Museum. I would so love to wear that to a ball! It actually dates from the 1960s but looks like something from the 19th century. Never mind decorating the house, decorating yourself for the season takes the whole celebration to a new level!

What object or tradition best sums up Christmas for you? The tree, the exchange of gifts, Christmas carols, or something else?


Jo Beverley said...

Lovely, Nicola. And yes, I'd wear that gown, too!

Elizabeth Hawksley said...

I loved this post, Nicola. Just right for the run up to Christmas. I was very taken with the Georgian table decoration; the oranges are such a warming colour and I bet they smelt wonderful, too - especially if the candles were beeswax and added their own aroma. I can breathe it in already!

Carolb said...

Enjoyed your post, and the pictures.

Fairfax House is worth a visit any time, but it must be wonderful to see it dressed to show Christmas in the past. Hopefully I will get an opportunity to visit it again.

Christina said...

Love table decorations at Christmas, but especially candles! Great post, Nicola!

Nicola Cornick said...

Thanks, Jo! Isn't it gorgeous? I love the idea of a Christmas gown!

Nicola Cornick said...

I thought all the table decorations looked wonderful, Elizabeth, Yes, it would all be about the scent as well, which is so evocative of Christmas.

Nicola Cornick said...

Carol, I would love to visit Fairfax House some time. It looks wonderful, a bit like the Georgian House in Edinburgh.

Nicola Cornick said...

Thanks, Christina! Oooh, yes, scented candles! more gorgeous Christmassy scents.

Jane Odiwe said...

I've never been to York and would love to visit Fairfax House. The ball gown is also rather gorgeous!

Jane Odiwe said...
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Melinda Hammond/Sarah Mallory said...

Fairfax House is on my list of things to do, but I still haven't got there yet, so thank you for the picture, Nicola.

I love the colours and scents of Christmas, rich reds and greens and the smell of mulled wine. Delicious!