The picture that started it all! Although Christmas had been celebrated all over the world in a variety of ways, it was Queen Victoria and Prince Albert that fanned it into a frenzy of fashionable trends. In 1848 the Illustrated London News published a drawing of the royal family celebrating around a decorated Christmas tree and changed the way the public viewed the holiday. Suddenly, the art of gift-giving became the rage.
So exactly what did the Victorians have on their wish lists? Besides the classic handcrafted toys for the tots, the adults had a few more sophisticated wants of their own. In a time of innovation, there were plenty of exciting new gadgets that the public pined for.
#1 Bicycles and Bloomer Suits
One of top requests on the list for Father Christmas was the bicycle. This new invention started to boom in popularity in Paris in 1867, and spread into a worldwide obsession. Pierre Michaux and his brothers had great success selling what they called the Velocipedes and those gradually evolved into the bicycles that we know today.
Of course, this also set the scene for an up and coming fashion trend known as the bloomer suit which was available to both ladies and gentlemen. These ample fitting pantaloons gave them freedom to get on their bicycles and ride.
This invention was a hit for the techie of time. The theatrophone was introduced at the first International Exposition of Electricity in Paris in 1881 and it brought a buzz of electrical excitement the world had never known before.
It allowed broadcasts of concerts and plays from the stage of the Paris Opera to be sent by telephone transmitters and the performances could be heard using two headphones. This was an expensive gadget for the time and would have truly been a favorite beneath the tree.
#3 Kodak Camera
The first affordable camera of the day was sold in 1888. It was nothing more than a simple box with a fixed-focus lens and a single shutter speed and was known as the Kodak. The original camera came loaded with 100 pictures and after they were taken, the entire device would be sent back to the factory where the pictures were processed. The Kodak Girls were the face of the company’s advertising and known as traveling girls on the go who were meant to inspire the general public to go and see the world through their very own lens.
Another popular device that revolved around the ever-changing world and discoveries of photography, was the Stereoscope. 3-D photography was the virtual reality of the time and was a popular pastime for Victorians as well as a status symbol.
The stacks of stereograph cards one collected were a sign of the household’s success and these were shared in parlors while entertaining. The range of themes varied but some of the most popular were the risqué and humorous images of women in their boudoirs and bloomers.
The naughty notions were usually in a gentleman’s private stash and only shared over a brandy with masculine company.
#5 Parlor Board Games
The Victorians loved to have fun and enjoyed a variety of outrageous parlor games and activities such as Snapdragon which was a Christmas Eve tradition and guaranteed to leave a few singed fingers behind. The game was played by placing a couple dozen raisins or nuts in a large shallow bowl and then pouring a bottle of brandy over the top. Once the lights were turned down low, and the liquor was ignited, eager hands tried to rescue the flaming sweets. The winner was the one with the most fruits but no doubt, a few burns as well. This made the introduction of the parlor board game a welcome addition and provided hours of enjoyment without the repercussions.
Games like The Great Victorian Cycle Race were beautifully crafted and soon the industry had a surge and became quite popular. Varieties of themes began to blossom and became must-haves by eccentric Victorians looking to share some good, clean fun and family game nights were born.
So many of our Yuletide traditions today are rooted in the Victorian Era and we have their fun-loving spirit to thank for the merrymaking of our present holiday season. These are just a few examples of treasures they would have loved to have had beneath their tree and most of them would be a delight even now, under our own.