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

The Vancouver Island Crisis Society has seen a five per cent rise in call volumes compared to this time last year. (Black Press Media file photo)
Winter blues a concern for Vancouver Islanders during COVID-19 Christmas season

Statistics show British Columbians anticipate worsening mental health

Jason Soukochoff is wanted on a Canada-wide warrant, say Victoria police. (Courtesy VicPD)
Victoria police seek man with violent criminal history against elderly

Jason Soukochoff wanted on Canada-wide warrant for parole violations

Bystanders attend to a cyclist who is knocked to the pavement of Oak Bay Avenue. Witnesses say the cyclist was knocked off their bike in a dooring incident on Oak Bay Avenue at Fell Street at around 12:40 p.m. on Wednesday. 
(Daniel Opden Dries Photo)
UPDATED: VicPD tickets driver for ‘dooring’ cyclist on Oak Bay Avenue

Incident occurred at Oak Bay Avenue and Fell Street

West Shore RCMP pulled over a 2010 Jeep Grand Cherokee on Nov. 23 after noting that it didn’t appear safe for the road. (West Shore RCMP)
West Shore RCMP pull over vehicle held together by tape and cargo strap

RCMP deemed the vehicle unsafe for the road and had it towed away

Salon owner Philip Ferreira with the PPE collection box at The Natural Hair Salon, 618 View St. (Mariah Johal photo)
Victoria salon inspires more mask recycling

Anyone welcome to drop disposable masks in bin outside View Street shop

A man wearing a face mask to help curb the spread of COVID-19 walks in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020. The use of masks is mandatory in indoor public and retail spaces in the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. records deadliest day of pandemic with 13 deaths, 738 new COVID-19 cases

Number of people in hospital is nearing 300, while total cases near 30,000

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of Nov. 24

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

(AP Photo/Haven Daley)
POLL: Do you think the current COVID-19 restrictions should continue beyond Dec. 7?

One week into the new restrictions to curtail the spread of the… Continue reading

(File photo)
Alberta woman charged after allegedly hitting boy with watermelon at Okanagan campsite

Police say a disagreement among friends at an Adams Lake campsite turned ugly

Court of Appeal for British Columbia in Vancouver. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
B.C. woman loses appeal to have second child by using late husband’s sperm

Assisted Human Reproduction Act prohibits the removal of human reproductive material from a donor without consent

An excavator was stolen from a rural property south of Nanaimo this month, say police. (Photos submitted)
Excavator stolen from property south of Nanaimo

Bobcat Mini believed to have been stolen between Nov. 12-14, say RCMP

Krista Macinnis displays the homework assignment that her Grade 6 daughter received on Tuesday. (Submitted photo)
B.C. mom angry that students asked to list positive stories about residential schools

Daughter’s Grade 6 class asked to write down 5 positive stories or facts

B.C. projects targeting the restoration of sockeye salmon stocks in the Fraser and Columbia Watersheds will share in $10.9 million of federal funding to protect species at risk. (Kenny Regan photo)
13 projects protecting B.C. aquatic species at risk receive $11 million in federal funding

Salmon and marine mammals expected to benefit from ecosystem-based approach

Most Read