by Becky Weiser, ECHS Curator
In celebration of the season, Victorian Holidays was again held at the Watson-Curtze Mansion in early December.
The Victorian period of history is named after the British Queen Victoria who reigned from 1837-1901. The Watson-Curtze Mansion, finished in 1892, is considered Victorian as it was built during her reign.
Christmas was first celebrated in the year 336 by the Christian Church in Rome. As time went on, different ethnic groups added aspects of the Holiday which made it festive for them.
The Germans introduced the idea of a tree to celebrate and brought that tradition with them as many settled in America. America, however, wasn’t ready for trees. Our Puritanical roots considered any frivolous displays heathen. Christmas was a day to celebrate by attending Church. Then in 1841, Queen Victoria’s German husband Prince Albert put up the first Christmas tree in Windsor Castle.
Newspapers and magazines were becoming increasingly popular, and news spread quickly of small evergreen trees brought in the house decorated with homemade decorations and gifts. By the time of the American Civil War, Christmas trees were found in many American homes.
Authors Washington Irving (A History of New York, 1809) and Charles Dickens (A Christmas Carol, 1843) enlarged the idea of Christmas that took hold with the Victorians, the idea of Santa Claus, and generosity to others during the Holiday. Irving wrote of “Sinterklass” (a Dutch name which became anglicized to Santa Claus). Sinterklass flew over the streets of New York delivering gifts. Cartoonist Thomas Nast drew the first Santa and published his images in newspapers during the Civil War.
By 1870, Christmas finally became a national Holiday. The first Christmas cards were published in the U.S. by Louis Prang of Boston in 1874. Expensive electric lights first appeared on some Christmas trees by the late 1800s, and the first White House tree was put up by President Benjamin Harrison in 1889. By the end of the Victorian period, the American concept of commercialism took hold, and ads for store-bought Christmas gifts were found throughout the print media of the day.
The Hagen History Center’s Victorian Holidays helps visitors go back to perhaps the simpler beginnings of the Holiday. We hope you get a chance to walk through our beautiful Victorian mansion, relax and enjoy the experience. While on our campus, also tour the Wood-Morrison House just East of the Mansion which is also decorated. All of us at the Hagen History Center wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy 2020.