Timeless New Years Toasts


Happy-New-Year-Victorian-PostcardWho doesn’t need a great toast for New Year’s Eve parties?

Here are timeless toasts you can use this year:

Here’s to the year past and friends who have left us,
Here’s to the present and the friends who are here,
Here’s to the New Year and the new friends who will join us.

– – – – – – –

Welcome be ye that are here,
Welcome all, and make good cheer,
Welcome all, another year.

– – – – – – –

Here’s to a bright New Year
And a fond farewell to the old;
Here’s to the things that are yet to come
And to the memories that we hold.

– – – – – – –

May all your troubles during the coming year
Be as short as your New Year’s resolutions. Continue reading

Ring in the New Year | Victorian History | Meredith Sweetpea


Victorian-New-Year's-Day-card

Happy Victorian
New Year

In Victorian times, on New Year’s Day, wealthy Victorians would invite eligible bachelors into their homes to meet their daughters in sort of a formal open house tradition.

Victorian open houses ruled New Year’s Day

The bachelors would receive engraved invitations and arrived to enjoy a feast buffet of fine foods like turkey, oysters, chicken, fruitcake, sweets, and liquor-laced egg nog, and to enjoy mingling with any eligible young ladies of the house. Traditionally, all ladies and boys under age ten remained at home to receive callers while the gentlemen went out to pay visits. Newspapers sometimes even printed lists of homes that were open and the times the family would receive visitors.

Rules dictated that the gentlemen callers Continue reading

Have a Dickens of a Victorian Christmas | Victorian Holidays | Meredith Sweetpea


A-Christmas-Carol

A Christmas Carol
by Charles Dickens

What’s more beloved at Christmastime than A Christmas Carol by English author Charles Dickens.  We all are familiar with that story, but do you know the story behind the story?

A Christmas Carol was first published as a serial, telling the story of Ebenezer Scrooge and his supernatural visits by the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future. It was an instant and popular success.

Written in the Victorian Era

The book was written and published in Britain’s Victorian Era, a period where old Christmas traditions were Continue reading

I Have Always Thought of Christmas… | Victorian Holiday Quotes


“I have always thought of Christmas as a good time;
a kind, forgiving, generous, pleasant time;
a time when men and women seem to open their hearts freely,
and so I say, God Bless Christmas!”

–Charles Dickens, English novelist, 1812-1870

Christmas with the Victorians | Victorian Holidays


As Meredith Sweetpea decorates her tree and prepares her table, she ponders this question…What was Christmas like for the Victorians? Can their customs be different from ours today?

Christmas eve was a time for Victorian employers to entertain their employees and apprentices. Generally they would eat cake, cold roasts, and mince pie, and drink beer, a Gin Punch, mulled wine or Bishop (a punch made by heating red wine and adding oranges, sugar and spices). And often they would dance to a fiddler brought in for the occasion.

The Victorians loved their Christmases and they were merry occasions. Picture the flickering fires, the sparking trees, and the greenery decorations throughout the lovely homes.

On Christmas day, Mass was celebrated, and the church bells pealed out. They sang Christmas Carols.

You would find goose, chicken or roast beef on the Christmas dinner table (turkey was not served until the late 19th century), followed by Christmas Pudding, made with beef, raisins and prunes, and mincemeat pies. The mince pies were eaten for the 12 days of Christmas to ensure good luck for each of the 12 months in the coming year. According to superstition, each of the 12 pies had to be baked by a different person.

Victorians were sentimental enjoyed making their Christmas presents by hand, and the preparations started way in advance. As they worked on their gifts, they enjoyed pleasant thoughts of the one who would be receiving it. The sewing, cooking, canning of jams or jellies, or crafting of these gifts helped the Victorians enjoy their long winter evenings. Later in the Victorian period, however, store-bought items became more readily available and more popular.

The Victorian family opened its gifts either before or after breakfast, or after church or dinner. Many times they ate a quick breakfast while the father lit the tree candles in the parlor. Then the doors opened to a beautiful glowing scene of the Christmas tree surrounded by gifts.

Merry Christmas to all.

Christmas Presents for Men | Victorian Holidays


Meredith Sweetpea is out shopping for holiday gifts. The stores are beautifully decorated and she can’t help but hum along to the jolly tunes being played. She has no difficulty finding the perfect gifts for her female friends and relatives, but when it comes to the men, she doesn’t know where to look.

It is often difficult finding the perfect present for gentlemen. They never seem to need anything, and they don’t really enjoy the pretty little things we women do. The Victorians, it seems, had the same problem, and who knew they had rules for gift giving to a gentleman. Here is what they recommended in this article from Harper’s Bazaar in 1879.

Christmas Presents for Gentlemen

taken from Harper’s Bazar [sic], 1879

Gentlemen do not care for the pretty trifles and decorations that delight ladies; and as for real necessities, they are apt to go and buy anything that is a convenience just as soon as it is discovered. Knickknacks, articles of china, ect,. are generally useless to them.

A Lady cannot give a gentleman a gift of great value because he would certainly feel bound to return one still more valuable and thus her gift would lose all its grace and retain only a selfish commercial aspect.

What, then, shall she give? Here is the woman’s advantage. She has her hands, while men must transact all their present giving in hard cash. She can hem fine handkerchiefs-and in order to give them intrinsic value, if their relationship warrants such a favor, she can embroider the name or monogram with her own hair. If the hair is dark it has a very pretty, graceful effect, and the design may be shaded by mingling the different hair of the family. We knew a gentlemen who for years lost every handkerchief he took to the office; at length his wife marked them with her own hair, and he never lost another. Such gifts are made precious by love, time and talent.

The bare fact of rarity can raise an object commercially valueless, to an asthetic level. Souvenirs from famous places or of famous people, a bouquet of wild thyme from Mount Hymettus, an ancient Jewish shekel or Roman coin, etc. All such things are very suitable as presents to gentlemen and will be far more valued than pins, studs, ect., which only represent a certain number of dollars and cents. Do not give a person who is socially your equal a richer present than he is able to give you. He will be more mortified than pleased. But between equals it is often an elegance to disregard cost and depend on rarity, because gold cannot always purchase it. Still between very rich people presents should also be very rich or else their riches are set above their friendship and generosity.

Sugar Plums Recipe | Tea Party Recipes


Meredith Sweetpea remembers reading Clement Clark Moore’s poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas” this time of year. It begins like this…

"...while visions of sugar plums danced in her head..."

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all thro’ the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar plums danc’d in their heads,

Now, Meredith Sweetpea thought that sugar plums were candy…didn’t you?  But come to find out, there is an actual recipe for sugar plums. Delicious plums rolled with other ingredients and served covered with powdered sugar.

Here’s the recipe from the November 2007 issue of Saveur Magazine for you to try at home. You might want to re-sugar them just before eating, as the sugar plums tend to absorb the powdered sugar.

Make some delicious sugar plums

Sugar Plums Recipe

Ingredients:

2 cups whole almonds
1⁄4 cup honey
2 tsp. grated orange zest
1 1⁄2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1⁄2 tsp. ground allspice
1⁄2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup finely chopped dried apricots
1 cup finely chopped pitted dates
1 cup confectioners’ sugar

1. Preheat oven to 400°. Arrange almonds on a baking sheet in a single layer and toast in oven for 10 minutes. Set aside to cool, then finely chop.

2. Meanwhile, combine honey, orange zest, cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg in a medium mixing bowl. Add almonds, apricots, and dates and mix well.

3. Pinch off rounded teaspoon-size pieces of the mixture and roll into balls. (Rinse your hands often, as mixture is very sticky.) Roll balls in sugar, then refrigerate in single layers between sheets of waxed paper in airtight containers for up to 1 month. Their flavor improves after ripening for several days.

The Victorian Christmas Tree


Around 1841 the Christmas tree was introduced into Victorian society. In that year, the German Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victorian, erected and decorated a Christmas tree at Windsor Castle. He was following the German tradition that had become popular in the 18th century. (Some of the first German settlers also brought this tradition to America with them.) Then in 1846 an illustration of Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and some of their children standing around a Christmas tree was published in the Illustrated London News.

People liked to copy Queen Victoria

Queen Victoria was extremely popular, and like today, people were fascinated by the royals and enjoyed copying their traditions for themselves…both in England and on the American East Coast. Therefore, it very quickly became fashionable to put up a large tree indoors decorated with candles, ribbons, and fancy trinkets.

Victorian tree decorations

Some of the items that were popular to decorate with homemade ornaments including glass balls, bead decorations,lead ornaments depicting crosses and stars, paper cornucopias filled with fruit, nuts and popcorn, small sewn pouches containing tiny gifts,and other edible treats. Angles often topped the tree, and later as the English Empire grew, the English flag became the most popular tree topper.

By the 1870s Victorians began to purchase store-bought decorations. Many of those ornaments were manufactured in Germany, and you can still purchase them today in the German Christmas Markets.

Children decorate the Victorian Christmas tree

By the 1890s the tree became high art and was covered with glitter, tinsel and small toys. Today it would be considered “over-decorated.” Then by 1900 tree themes became popular and it wasn’t uncommon to see a ribbon tree, an Oriental tree or tree with a single color theme.

When Queen Victoria died in 1903, it seemed the world went into mourning and popularity of the fancy trees waned. Tabletop trees and feather trees became more popular then.

Make your own Victorian Christmas tree decorations

You can create Victorian-like ornaments yourself very easily.  Try these ideas:

  • String cranberries or popcorn to make garlands
  • Paint walnuts and pine cones with gold or silver paint and dip them into glitter. Attach a bright ribbon to hang them.
  • Create paper chains as garlands.
  • Curl doilies into paper cornucopias and fill them with nuts, dried fruits or hard candies.
  • Recycle your old Christmas cards. Cut out the image and attach a colorful ribbon from which to hang the images.
  • Bake cookies and hang them from the branches.

Not to put a damper on the festive holiday spirit, but Miss Meredith Sweetpea must throw in a warning at this time. Please DO NOT use candles on your Christmas tree. It is far to dangerous to have an open flame around your tree. Please use lights specifically designated for tree decorations.

Why are there Robins on Victorian Christmas Cards?


Meredith Sweetpea spent the evening by her fire handwriting out her Christmas cards and began to ponder why Victorians favored robins on their Christmas cards.

It turns out that in Victorian England, the postmen wore red uniforms and were often called “robins.” And in some of the first Christmas cards those “robins” were depicted delivering holiday mail.

The robin motif took off and became one of the most popular for holiday cards. It is officially known as the European Robin and often called the Robin Redbreast. Both the male and female birds have a distinctive orange-colored breast.

Supposedly the first Christmas card was created and printed by John Calcott Horsley in England, an idea given to him by Sir Henry Cole who wanted a card by which he could send holiday greetings to his friends and business contacts. So, a thousand cards were printed and sold for a shilling apiece, the first one being sent by Sir Henry Cole himself, a wealthy businessman.

The first card showed a typical English family enjoying the holidays. Other popular themes included people performing charitable acts, because this was a great part of the Victorian holiday customs. In the 19th century in England, Christmas cards were delivered on Christmas morning.

Get your cards into the mail!

The Halloween Cake | Victorian Holidays


Meredith Sweetpea talked about Victorian Halloween games that foretold the future in her last post, but perhaps one of the most important traditions for Halloween in Victorian times was the Halloween Cake or Ribbon Cake.

The Halloween Cake

It was tradition to cut the first slice at the stroke of nine by one person designated to be “Dame Halloween.”

Silence Around the Table

Everyone was to gather around the table in perfect silence, and the first word spoken after the initial slice was deemed to be prophetic, and Dame Halloween had the power to make it meaningful.

As the slices are cut and delivered, each girl searches for their charm. For those who found no charm, they were to take their cake home and on the next full moon, sleep on it for three successive nights.

This was a cake with a variety of little charms baked into it. The cake was sliced and served, and whatever charms each person received foretold their future.

Meaning of Charms in the Victorian Halloween Cake

  • Penny — Wealth or good fortune
  • Doll — Children
  • Key — Travel
  • Ring — Marriage
  • Thimble — Single life
  • Button — Forlorn sweethearts

Halloween Cake Poem

This little poem describes the tradition:

The ring for marriage within a year;
The penny for wealth, my dear;
The thimble for old maid or bachelor born;
The button for sweethearts all forlorn;
The key for a journey to make all right;
And this you will see next Halloween night.

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