Dec 10, 2019 – A Victorian-era Christmas display at Point Ellice House. (Nicole Crescenzi/News Staff)

Dec 10, 2019 – A Victorian-era Christmas display at Point Ellice House. (Nicole Crescenzi/News Staff)

Revisit Christmas past as Point Ellice House displays Victorian-era traditions

Antique bobbles, cards, decor and more are on display

The halls of Point Ellice House are lined with antique decor in celebration of the building’s 157th Christmas.

The Victorian era was a time when some of today’s Christmas traditions just started to come in vogue, such as Christmas crackers, Christmas cards, Christmas trees and even some of today’s favourite carols, but some other aspects have fallen from favour.

Golden walnuts, for example, were a highly popular Christmas bobble which people painted and stuffed with Christmas wishes before hanging on the tree. On Christmas day people would open the walnuts to see the message.

“They were basically like fortune cookies today,” explained Kelly Black, executive director of Point Ellice House. Visitors to Point Ellice House during the holidays can try to find the golden walnuts hidden around the house to win a prize.

ALSO READ: Victoria’s historic Point Ellice House re-opens after months of closure

The art of writing Christmas cards also emerged around this time, though the motifs were fairly different.

“Greeting cards became popular in the Victorian era, but the imagery we might be familiar with today wouldn’t have been popular,” Black said. “So we have Christmas cards and New Years cards that have cats and elephants instead of perhaps Rudolph and Frosty the Snowman.”

Other cards were hand painted with flowers and animals, or otherwise carried strange jokes. One card shows a man being kicked off of a sleigh by a horse into a pond, with a caption that wishes the reader a Merry Christmas.

Some classic Christmas items are out on display at Point Ellice House; Christmas cards were just becoming vogue in the Victorian era, and the ice skates were likely used down at the pond at Beacon Hill park. (Nicole Crescenzi/News Staff)

Postage and paper were also very expensive at the time, so people often practised something known as crossed writing, where one portion of the letter would be written in one direction, then the paper would be turned 90 degrees and more of the letter would be written over top.

Many Christmas decorations came from nature around the house, including the harvest of fresh holly, sent across the country as gifts. Then owner Peter O’Reilly, Black said, sent a hand-picked bunch from his property to Agnes Macdonald, wife of Prime Minister John A. Macdonald in 1889.

“Even little bits of Point Ellice House made their way across the country at Christmas time,” Black said.

ALSO READ: Point Ellice House exhibit offers new lens into colonial history

Christmas food was largely the same: mincemeat tarts, plum pudding, sausage stuffed turkey, shortbread cookies and more were often found at the table at the time.

“One of the neat things at Point Ellice House is we have extensive archives, so we have the O’Reilly’s family recipe collection,” Black said.

After Christmas dinner, popular activities included singing, playing music and reading from the new and highly popular works of Charles Dickens, including the Christmas Carol which was published in 1843.

Christmas presents were largely personalized and included things such as clothing and puzzles.

“A puzzle then was different than today,” Black said “They are essentially wooden blocks with different pictures or images pasted on every different side of the block.”

The O’Reilly’s were known to go shopping where many people continue to do holiday shopping: along Government and Fort streets for things like new clothes.

Point Ellice House is open for the holiday season Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. until Dec. 22. While touring the house, people can create their own decorations and purchase replica Christmas cards or scans of the recipes so they can try some Victorian-era versions of holiday favourites. For more information, visit pointellicehouse.com .

nicole.crescenzi@vicnews.com

Like us on Facebook Send a Tweet to @NicoleCrescenzi
and follow us on Instagram

ChristmasChristmas holiday

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Nikita, a four-year-old German Shepherd that was attacked by a buck in a backyard in Esquimalt Sunday is lucky the injury wasn't more severe. (Photo contributed by Suzette Goldsworthy)
Esquimalt dog owner issues alert after deer injures German shepherd

Nikita needed stitches after an early morning encounter

The Victoria Police Department headquarters. (Black Press Media file photo)
Investigation launched into man’s death after arrest in Victoria

IIO investigation to determine if police actions or inaction played a role in the man’s death

Capital Regional District Animal Control say an eight-month-old Rottweiler bit a Langford mother and her child near Glen Lake on Nov. 19. (Black Press Media file photo)
Large dog attacks mother and child in Langford

Mother puts three-year-old on top of car to protect him

(Black Press Media file photo)
Police arrest man covered in blood on heels of significant Saanich crash into woods

Resident calls in home invasion in progress after crash

Victoria School for Ideal Education at 2820 Belmont Avenue is the second school in Greater Victoria with an active confirmed COVID-19 exposure. (Travis Paterson/News Staff)
Private school becomes second Greater Victoria school with COVID-19 exposure

Victoria School for Ideal Education follows Lakeview Christian School in Saanich

People wearing face masks to help curb the spread of COVID-19 cross a street in downtown Vancouver, on Sunday, November 22, 2020. The use of masks is mandatory in indoor public and retail spaces in the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. reports 17 COVID deaths, 1,933 new cases as hospitalizations surge over the weekend

There are 277 people in hospital, of whom 59 are in ICU or critical care

An aerial shot of Cedar Valley Lodge this past August, LNG Canada’s newest accommodation for workers at the project site in Kitimat. This is where several employees are isolating after a COVID-19 outbreak was declared last Thursday (Nov. 19). (Photo courtesy of LNG Canada)
Forty-one positive COVID-19 cases associated with the LNG Canada site outbreak in Kitimat

Thirty-four of the 41 cases remain active, according to Northern Health

Workers arrive at the Lynn Valley Care Centre seniors home, in North Vancouver, B.C., on Saturday, March 14, 2020. It was the site of Canada’s first COVID-19 outbreak in a long-term care facility. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Rapid tests ‘not a panacea’ for care homes, Dr. Bonnie Henry says

B.C. lacks capacity for daily tests of thousands of workers

(Delta Police Department photo)
Cannabis edibles found in Halloween bag lead B.C. police to illegal lab

Delta police arrested a man and a woman while executing a warrant at a residential property Nov. 20

A woman being arrested at a Kelowna Value Village after refusing to wear a mask on Nov. 22.(@Jules50278750/Twitter)
VIDEO: Woman arrested for refusing to wear mask at Kelowna Value Village

RCMP claims the woman was uncooperative with officers, striking them a number of times and screaming

B.C. Liberal MLA Shirley Bond questions NDP government ministers in the B.C. legislature, Feb. 19, 2020. (Hansard TV)
Cabinet veteran Shirley Bond chosen interim leader of B.C. Liberals

28-member opposition prepares for December legislature session

Motorists wait to enter a Fraser Health COVID-19 testing facility, in Surrey, B.C., on Monday, November 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
COVID-19: What do rising positivity rates mean for B.C.? It’s not entirely clear

Coronavirus cases are on the rise but the province has not unveiled clear thresholds for further measures

A rider carves a path on Yanks Peak Saturday, Nov. 21. Two men from Prince George went missing on the mountain the next day. One of them, Colin Jalbert, made it back after digging out his sled from four feet under the snow. The other, Mike Harbak, is still missing. Local search and rescue teams went out looking Monday, Nov. 23. (Sam Fait Photo)
‘I could still be the one out there’: Snowmobiler rescued, 1 missing on northern B.C. mountain

As Quesnel search and rescue teams search for the remaining rider, Colin Jalbert is resting at home

Most Read