Some like to celebrate Christmas extravagantly with Blackpool-style illuminations, whilst others prefer a more reserved look with peg ornaments and home-made stockings hanging over the fireplace. How we decide to decorate our homes at this time of year is a very personal matter.
Until the Victorian era, the only decorations that existed in Britain were seasonal greenery such as holly and ivy; fir and mistletoe; bay, laurel and rosemary. However, during the Victorian era, trees, cards and crackers started to emerge. Having a tree in your home was popularised by Queen Victoria’s German husband, Prince Albert. It’s only now that the traditional pre-Victorian evergreen decorations are gradually creeping back into modern day celebrations.
At the annual Christmas Past exhibition held at the Geffrye Museum in London, period rooms record the decorative state of London homes at Christmas from 1630-1990. Hannah Fleming, curator at the Geffrye Museum says:
“Evergreens are seen as a symbol of eternal life, fertility and freshness.”
She goes on to explain:
“The sequence of rooms shows us how Christmas has changed over the years. But it’s more than just the decorations, we can see people’s lived experiences and how their identities, tastes and backgrounds affected how people went about making a home.”
The exhibition, which is open until early January, even makes sure that each room has a different tree. For example, the Victorian room has a noble pine, the Sixties room has a spruce, and the Nineties room has a Nordmann fir – this is generally considered the most popular tree these days.
Michael Hunter, curator at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, gave advice on decorating your tree in a 19th Century style. He suggests that blown-glass baubles and little wooden decorations were very popular for decorating your tree, as was a carved wooden angel placed at the top. He goes on to explain that the smaller presents were often hung from the tree and that the ribbons of the presents under the tree were colour coded for girls and boys in accordance with their ages. This decorating trick would be just as fun to enact today.
Paper chains and tinsel made their first appearance during Queen Victoria’s reign, but they didn’t become popular until the early 20th Century, when mass-production saw things really take off. The Thirties saw the introduction of artificial trees, electrical lights and pressed-metal decorations. Since then, there seems to be a debate throughout the homes in Britain over what “good taste” in decorations really is.
Traditionalists may argue that some of the festive fads should definitely not be welcomed back – such as the space-aged silver artificial trees from the Sixties, or the rigid colour schemes of baubles from the Eighties. They are much more enthusiastic about the Victorian-style wreaths, 19th Century blown-glass baubles or little wooden decorations. But each to their own, that’s the joy of Christmas.
PE propertysurveying.co.uk 1/12/15