So here it is, Merry Christmas, and I hope you’re having a fun, and not overly stressful, day. Christmas has changed a lot since the days of our beloved Brontës in Haworth Parsonage, but we still enjoy Christmas music, still exchange presents, still pull crackers, still tell corny jokes, and still swap Christmas cards.
Er, hang on, whilst presents and love were still high on the agenda, crackers as we know them only arrived after the time of the Brontës. They were invented in the mid to late 1840s by a sweet manufacturer from London with the exotic name of Tom Smith. They were simply sweets, with a motto, in a festive wrapper that pulled open but they failed to make any impact until a moment that changed Christmas history in 1861. Tom saw a spark make a crackle in a coal fire, and realised that his festive sweet wrappers would be more popular if he made them crack too – he called them ‘Bangs Of Expectation’ and the modern cracker was born! One thing the Victorians weren’t short of was bad jokes suitable for crackers. They loved cringe-making puns and plays on words so here’s a festive jolly from the nineteenth century Answers Magazine:
We know that Anne, Charlotte and Emily Brontë received Valentine’s cards from William Weightman in 1840 and 1841, a tradition that was already centuries old at that time, so surely they received Christmas cards too? Strange as it may seem, Valentine’s cards greatly pre-date Christmas cards. In fact, the very first commercially printed Christmas card was sent in 1843 by Sir Henry Cole. In 1846 a thousand copies of this first card were made, and sold at auction. It was in the latter half of the century that they became an essential feature of the festive season, so it’s likely that none of the Brontës sent or received one.
We will come, as is my own tradition on this blog, to music in a moment but firstly let’s take a look at some genuine Victorian Christmas cards. It tells us a lot about them. If you’re expecting nativity scenes, Santa or a star over a stable think again. Prepare yourself for puddings climbing out of a cauldron, snowmen who assault passers by and dancing stag beetles rather than reindeer!
We all love our Christmas songs, whether they be traditional carols or modern hits, and this at least we have in common with the Brontës. How do we know that? Well, Anne Brontë wrote about it in a poem that she composed on Christmas Day itself. I wish you all a delightful Christmas Day and a happy and healthy festive period for you and your loved ones. May your ‘Bangs Of Expectation’ always be loud, and surround yourself with love, and with ‘Music On Christmas Morning’:
“Music I love – but never strain
Could kindle raptures so divine,
So grief assuage, so conquer pain,
And rouse this pensive heart of mine –
As that we hear on Christmas morn,
Upon the wintry breezes born.
Though Darkness still her empire keep,
And hours must pass, ere morning break;
From troubled dreams, or slumbers deep,
That music kindly bids us wake:
It calls us, with an angel’s voice,
To wake, and worship, and rejoice;
To greet with joy the glorious morn,
Which angels welcomed long ago,
When our redeeming Lord was born,
To bring the light of Heaven below;
The Powers of Darkness to dispel,
And rescue Earth from Death and Hell.
While listening to that sacred strain,
My raptured spirit soars on high;
I seem to hear those songs again
Resounding through the open sky,
That kindled such divine delight,
In those who watched their flocks by night.
With them – I celebrate His birth –
Glory to God, in highest Heaven,
Good will to men, and peace on Earth,
To us a saviour-king is given;
Our God is come to claim His own,
And Satan’s power is overthrown!
A sinless God, for sinful men,
Descends to suffer and to bleed;
Hell must renounce its empire then;
The price is paid, the world is freed.
And Satan’s self must now confess,
That Christ has earned a Right to bless:
Now holy Peace may smile from heaven,
And heavenly Truth from earth shall spring:
The captive’s galling bonds are riven,
For our Redeemer is our king;
And He that gave his blood for men
Will lead us home to God again.”