We like to think of Christmas as an old tradition; something that’s been celebrated since time immemorial. (Or at least since 2016 years ago.) But like nearly every assumption we make about our favourite holiday, it’s almost entirely wrong. Christmas in the English-speaking world really only dates back to 1848, when Queen Victoria decided to celebrate the holidays with her German-born husband by decorating an evergreen tree inside their palace – an unusual practice, for the time.
The act was captured in an illustration which ran in the Illustrated London News, and soon enough the whole country (as well as the colonies) were decorating trees on the 25th, as well as having great feasts with one another and hoping that a mythical large gent would bring them presents if they’d been good that year.
The tradition of giving out Christmas cards also took off, though it took a little more time to reach its final form. For reasons that remain unknown, Victorian-era revelers thought nothing of sending their dearly beloveds the image of a dead bird accompanied by the words “May yours be a joyful Christmas”, or a picture of a frogs stabbing another frog for some reason.
It’s possible there was a context that we’ve since lost the thread of – the dead bird, perhaps, could have functioned as a reminder to think of the poor and starving during the holidays. Or it’s possible the Victorian’s were just a stranger, more morbid bunch than we are now. And far better at making Christmas cards, as a result.