Christmas With The Killicks

Wed 21-Dec-22

Christmas With The Killicks

by Imogen

Christmas with The Killicks header image

 

This year, we have had a very busy Christmas at Whitehall Historic House! We have put on a Christmas trail and Christmas activities, and even had Santa himself pop in to visit with his magical grotto!

 

Santa's Grotto at Whitehall Historic House

 

Last year, we released a blog post on how Christmas was celebrated under the rule of Henry VIII. This year, we’ll be looking at how it was celebrated while the Killicks lived at Whitehall.

 

The Killicks first moved into Whitehall around 1742, at the time when King George II was on the throne. The last owner of the house died in 1959. During this time, Christmas went through many changes in the way it was celebrated, the most significant ones during the Victorian era.

 

It would appear that Christmas was more of a luxury for the upper classes during the Georgian period. They would spend time in their country homes, having Christmas dinner and hosting extravagant balls. This Georgian tradition also continued into the Regency period, as documented in the works of Jane Austen. The Christmas season started on the 6th December, known as St. Nicholas’ Day, when people would hand gifts out to each other, and would continue until the 6th January.

 

Christmas dinner mainly consisted of goose, turkey or, in the case of the gentry, venison. It would be followed by Christmas pudding, also known as plum puddings due to their main ingredients being dried plums or prunes. As parties were huge and guests were plenty, a huge amount had to be put into preparing dishes, meaning that food that could be prepared ahead of time and served cold were also popular with the gentry.

 

However, poor families were able to get some enjoyment out of Christmas. Like with the gentry, they would decorate their homes with greenery such as holly and evergreens. They waited until Christmas Eve to bring decorations into their homes, as it was considered bad luck to bring them in before then. Kissing boughs and balls became particularly popular in the late 18th century. They were usually made from holly, ivy, mistletoe (except in religious households) and rosemary, and decorated with spices, apples, oranges, candles or ribbons.

 

It was during the Victorian era that Christmas was shaped into how we celebrate it today. It brought Christmas cards and Christmas crackers, with the former being officially distributed in the 1840s and the latter being invented in the 1850s. The cards in particular featured seasonal images of robins and Father Christmas. It was also transformed into a family-oriented event, with children waiting in anticipation for the gifts that Father Christmas would give them.

 

An example of a quintessential Victorian Christmas card, ©Victoria & Albert Museum, London

 

An example of a quintessential Victorian Christmas card, ©Victoria & Albert Museum, London

 

Father Christmas, or Santa Claus, seems to have originated from two stories. The Father Christmas name comes from old English midwinter celebrations, where he would be dressed in green to symbolise the oncoming spring. Sometime later in the Victorian era, he would end up switching to red - the famous Coca Cola advert is most likely a reference to this change rather than the actual reason why, as is commonly thought. As for Santa Claus, the name is derived from Sinter Klaas, who was brought to America by Dutch settlers in the 17th century, and based on the story of St. Nicholas.

 

Thanks to the increasing number of factories, gifts could be mass-produced at a cheaper price and therefore enjoyed by the middle classes, not just the rich. Poorer families however instead had “poor child’s” stockings, first popularised around 1870, which featured an apple, an orange and a few nuts. You’ll often hear your grandparents talking about this one! Whether the children of the Killicks would have been able to enjoy gifts in stockings or not may depend on the decade. William Killick went bankrupt in 1821, a major cause for future women of the family not having dowries when they married, meaning that the children might not have received any gifts at all. However, James Killick, starting in 1861, had a successful tea business at sea. THis change in fortunes means that different generations of the Killicks likely celebrated Christmas in different ways.

 

Christmas trees were first introduced to Britain from Germany in 1800 by Queen Charlotte, wife of King George III. They were first popularised in 1848, however, thanks to Victoria’s husband Prince Albert, who famously brought one over to Windsor Castle that became the subject of an engraving in the Illustrated London News. The traditional German ones had candles on them, though we tend to decorate them nowadays with baubles, tinsel and fairy lights.

 

Christmas card depicting a christmas tree form c. 1870, ©Victoria & Albert Museum, London

 

Christmas card depicting a christmas tree form c. 1870, ©Victoria & Albert Museum, London

 

A particularly important player in the making of Christmas today was A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Besides presenting a traditional Victorian Christmas, it also established some new traditions itself. Beforehand, people tended to eat goose for Christmas dinner, and whilst turkey was eaten sometimes back in the Tudor era, it was not seen as the quintessential Christmas bird. That all changed when Christmas Carol depicted a scene of Ebenezer Scrooge sending a young boy to fetch a turkey that he could give to his clerk Bob Cratchitt for Christmas. Though turkey was a more expensive and drier bird than goose, it was much larger and could feed more people - very handy for large families like the Cratchitts. Since then, turkey has become the main staple of Christmas dinner and goose is rarely eaten.

 

In Edwardian times, Christmas stayed relatively similar to the Victorian period. Extravagant feasts would be had by well-off families, including mince pies, figs, roasted nuts and even boar’s head! Goose was still in favour at the time, but as mentioned earlier, turkey would soon replace it. As Edward VII was infamous for being quite the hedonist, it makes sense that people had this attitude around Christmas as well.

 

Christmas is also celebrated as a time of peace, and this was remembered even during World War 1. On Christmas Day in 1914, the British and German soldiers had a ceasefire and decided to spend time together, exchanging presents and playing football. John Stewart Muller, a member of the Muller family line, was in Norfolk at the time and therefore not on the frontline during this occasion, but the impact of it could still be felt on both sides. The song “All Together Now” by The Farm is about this temporary truce.

 

The wars would have had a major impact on how Christmas was celebrated. World War 2, in particular, caused certain traditions to be limited. There was a large influx of Christmas presents and cards as would be usual during the anti-war years, which the postal service struggled to deal with due to most of the postal service workers being conscripted for war. Presents and toys were often handmade from cheap materials due to shop-bought ones either being too expensive or not in supply. Some people even had to spend Christmas Eve in bomb shelters due to the Blitz occurring in Britain at the time.

 

By the time Whitehall was handed over to the Sutton Council in 1962, Christmas had become a lot more commercialised. Visiting Santa in the shopping centre became a popular tradition and for a while there was a craze over artificial Christmas trees. This started to get dialled back in the later 60s and 70s (The Grinch and A Charlie Brown Christmas are often credited for the backlash over commercialisation with their examinations of it), though there are still signs of it today.

 

Whitehall Historic House wishes all of its volunteers, workers and visitors Season's Greetings and a happy new year.

 


Works Cited:

  1. Johnson, Ben. “A Georgian Christmas.” Historic UK, https://www.historic-uk.com/CultureUK/A-Georgian-Christmas

  2. Johnson, Ben. “A Victorian Christmas.” Historic UK, https://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofEngland/A-Victorian-Christmas/

  3. “Exploring Edwardian Christmas Traditions.” {10-11} Carlton House Terrace, Sep. 2019, https://10-11cht.com/news-offers/edwardian-christmas

  4. “How Britain Celebrated Christmas During The Second World War.” Imperial War Museum, https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/how-britain-celebrated-christmas-during-the-second-world-war

“The Real Story of the Christmas Truce.” Imperial War Museum, https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/the-real-story-of-the-christmas-truce