#MyrtleMondays: Christmas in July!

Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat!
Put a pretty penny in the old man’s hat.
If you haven’t got a penny, then a ha’penny will do.
If you haven’t got a ha’penny, then God bless you!

Have you started your holiday shopping yet? You have just 147 days until Christmas, and a mere 85 days left to preorder the next Myrtle Hardcastle Mystery, Myrtle, Means, and Opportunity (October 24), which will make a great holiday gift! Given how fast time is speeding by, it is my solemn duty to do my utmost to get you into the Victorian Christmas spirit.

Myrtle Hardcastle Mystery Book 3, Cold-Blooded Myrtle features an Exceptionally Victorian Christmas, which is rudely interrupted by a series of unusual crimes in Myrtle’s village.  The erudite H.M. Hardcastle steps in with pithy observations on the holiday:

Read More: Ask #MyrtleMondays: Epigraphs

At the turn of the 19th century, the celebration of Christmas as a festive holiday had been on the decline for several centuries. Many of the elements we consider traditional must-haves in our yuletide celebrations were born, reborn, or evolved in the Victorian Era in England and America—with a little nudge from Germany.

Christmas Tree at Windsor Castle from Illustrated London News, 1848

“Christmas Tree at Windsor Castle” from Illustrated London News, December 1848

This image of Queen Victoria, her German-born husband Prince Albert, and their children celebrating Christmas in 1848 was the first glimpse many people had of a Christmas tree. Originally published in The Illustrated London News then widely reprinted, it immediately popularized the Christmas tree and made this German novelty seem quintessentially British. Victoria and Albert were married in 1840, and by Christmas 1841, Albert had installed the Christmas tree as a family tradition.  Victoria later wrote in her diary of her children’s “happy wonder at the German Christmas tree and its radiant candles.” It did not take long to catch on in Prince Albert’s adopted homeland.

Illustrated London News, still going strong with Christmas in 1876. By this point, the Christmas tree was well established. See how the Royal Family has become the ordinary middle-class British family (complete with servant watching adoringly from the sidelines)?

We see the same scene again, another thirty years later, with this London family in 1908

Traditions don’t spring up out of nowhere; they evolve from other customs. Victorian folklorists were fascinated with tracing the history of Christmas observances back to their ancient origins. As early as 1836, Scots-born poet and literary critic Thomas Kibble Hervey offered readers The Book of Christmas.  Hervey was looking back with a nostalgic view of Old England, before Christmas’s Victorian renaissance, and speaks of the “Extinction of the Ancient Festival; [its] Partial Revival; [and] Summary of the Causes of its Final Decline.”

But sixty-five years later, William F. Dawson was able to capitalize on decades of renewed enthusiasm for this most Victorian of holidays in 1902’s Christmas: Its Origins and Associations and its prodigious subtitle:

I wish my Christmases had more Brave Deeds and Chivalric Feats

Dawson was fascinated both with early Christianity’s observance of the Nativity, as well as pagan festivals believed to have been co-opted into traditional Christmas celebrations.


Naturally, by mid-century, Mrs. Beeton, our middle-class maven, was full of advice for the holiday, too:

What’s more Victorian Christmas than plum pudding? Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management included several recipes, like this kid-friendly version with no alcohol.


A brand-new holiday dessert to hit the late 19th century yuletide table was France’s now-iconic buche de noel.

Last Christmas, inspired by Miss Judson’s French heritage, a friend sent me her heirloom recipe for this splendid confection, et voila:

Read More: Joyeaux Noel: In Which I Make a Fan Recipe

Of course, the figure perhaps most associated with Victorian Christmas is Charles Dickens. A Christmas Carol was published in 1843, right when Victorians were just beginning to embrace the yuletide spirit with new zeal. Throughout the 19th century, as daily life became more industrialized, globalized, commercialized, and modernized, people began to romanticize what they saw as old-fashioned traditions (even if they were brand-new). The Victorian era was fertile soil for a holiday reimagined around hearth and home and ancient customs.

John Leech’s illustration for the frontispiece of the first edition of A Christmas Carol, already showing all the Victorian merriment we’d expect

Dickens, already a master of sentimental prose, recognized this yearning. And he was prescient, too. We still think of A Christmas Carol as that most Christmassy of Christmas traditions, 180 years later.

Harold Copping’s 1922 painting of Bob Cratchitt and Tiny Tim graced the cover of the copy of A Christmas Carol I bought in fifth grade (which was not in 1922)

Are you ready for Christmas yet? Here are some more period images to get you in the mood:

Pear’s Soap company produced an annual Christmas magazine full of stories–including reprints of Dickens’s Christmas tales—and display-worthy illustrations. This edition featuring Father Christmas (or Father Time) and Baby New Year is from 1893


Confectioner Tom Smith was the inventor of the Christmas cracker, and the company’s lavish annual Christmas catalogue was a precursor to the Sears Wishbook of 20th century American fame | early 20th C.


Late 19th century Swedish New Year’s postcards sent to my great-great grandparents, showing the influence of traditional Norse folklore (that appears to be a Valkyrie sending good wishes)

There! Now don’t you wish it was snowing (no, seriously. It was 103 degrees here last week.)? So set up your miniature Holiday Display, sing some carols, whip up a Christmas pudding, and have a happy Christmas in July!

Myrtle and LaRue in a scene from Cold-Blooded Myrtle

Don’t forget your mystery fans this coming holiday season! Pre-order your copy (hardcover or paperback) of Myrtle, Means, and Opportunity today, and you’ll have it in plenty of time to read it before you stuff it in somebody’s stocking.