Victorian Christmas Decorations

Victorian Christmas Decoration
Christmas decoration of entrance hall (The Book Of The Home, 1900)

‘Many housewives object to Christmas decorations, fearing that the furniture and paper may become scratched and spoiled. The decorators should bear this fear in mind, for beauty at Christmas will not pay for ugliness all the year round. Holly, the very prettiest and most Christmas-like of all adornments, does undoubtedly scratch and tear; it is therefore
best used chiefly in bouquets for jars and vases. In this way it can be scattered about the room very effectively, and can also be kept in water. People are apt to imagine that holly, as an evergreen, needs no nourishment; but, like all other plants, it lasts twice as long if kept moist.

Very pretty decorations can be made of the berries and leaves by pulling them off the stems and sewing them in various designs on strips of paper, but the berries so used turn black quickly. Persons who spend much time over decoration often preserve mountain ash or other berries in salt and water for use at Christmas.

Ivy is the safest, because the softest, of leaf decorations for walls; and ivy leaves sewn, one leaf overlapping the other, on strips of paper, make a very effective bordering for pictures or doorways. Laurel leaves, both green and variegated, and the leaves of evergreens, can be used for the same purpose.

Another scheme for the walls is to cut out various shapes in stiff brown paper or cardboard, and to sew sprays of greenery on them. Crescents, shields, and banners are among the most effective patterns. The border should always be of smooth leaves, ivy or laurel; but in the centre sprays of holly, yew, fir, golden euonymus, or red-leaved bramble may be introduced. A tasteful designer can invent many striking combinations. If a string is sewn on to the paper at the back, these designs can be hung on the walls instead of above or under pictures.

A good decorative effect is produced by removing some of the ordinary knick-knacks of a room and replacing them with articles specially made for Christmas. High-handled baskets filled with moss and holly look pretty on the tables, and for the usual brackets fresh ones made of green twigs can be substituted. […]

Victorian Christmas Decorations
Victorian Christmas decorations (The Book Of The Home, 1900, p. 313 ff., figs. 621, 622, 624, 625)

Mottoes are an old-fashioned form of decoration, but very appropriate for bare rooms, and also for dining-rooms and halls. The most effective are those with letters cut out in thick white wadding, gummed or tacked on to crimson paper or cloth. The letters should be large and bold, so as to be read at a glance. In these things the simplest devices are often the best. Letters cut from crimson, blue, or gold paper on a white background are
always pretty. (See figs. 621, 622, 624, 625.) An old-fashioned kind of wafer, used in the days before envelopes had gummed flaps, and still perhaps procurable at some stationers’, formed an excellent material for motto-making, being very easily arranged and most striking in their variety of hue. The wafers were round, of every colour, and adhesive when damped.’ (The Book Of The Home, 1900, p. 311 ff.)

‘The preparations for Christmas and its attendant festivities are not the least enjoyable features of the Yuletide programme. Set the young people to work at weaving garlands and wreaths as soon as the holidays begin, which is not usually long before Christmas day itself.

Ropes stretched between two chairs and pieces of evergreen placed crisscross on them make very pretty festoons of greenery; holly can be sparingly used among laurels and such like cheaper growths; and, of course, the mistletoe is always welcome.

Prettiest of all, however, are tiny fir trees, or boughs so cut as to resemble them. On the occasion of a party a series of these fastened so as to stand upright on the outside of the banister rail up the staircase, each hung with little different colored quicksilver balls, produces a most festive effect – almost as if one had come into a Christmas tree forest. Where holly is difficult to obtain, bows of bright red ribbon are very effective. Single holly leaves […] make pretty little Christmas cards to slip into parcels if appropriate mottoes are written on them.’ (San Francisco Call, 1903)

‘The simplest touches of color add much to the festive look of the home on Christmas day. Of course it is delightful to have holly wreaths tied with big scarlet satin bows in all the windows; huge bowls of scarlet carnations, pots of aezelia and poinsettia scattered about, and Christmas greens and wreathing twined about the room. But these are possible only to a few and I am going to suggest a few simple ways to make the home more “Christmassy.” If there are young children in the home who love to help, let them make [paper] chains, scarlet, scarlet and white and green. […] These are very pretty draped from the center of the ceiling to the four corners of the table, over the window curtains, door arches and other places such as personal taste suggests. Strings of popcorn, with an occasional cranberry, or a rose berry strung in, may be draped. Bright leaves may be pinned to the curtains, used in bowls on the table, and a few scattered about the cloth. Berries from wild rose bushes are very pretty massed on their branches.’ (The Gem State Rural, 1910)




Christmas Table Decorations

‘Holly should, of course, be in evidence on the Christmas dinner-table. The sprays may be tucked among the dishes of fruit, and appear in a high vase on the top of the epergne, and also in low vases along the border of the table-centre. A strip of scarlet silk or sateen, edged with white wadding, on which are scattered white glass beads dipped in gum to make them adhere, may be substituted for the everyday table-centre. The serviettes may be tied with fanciful bows of narrow scarlet ribbon, the true Christmas colour. Wax candles in ivy-wreathed candlesticks lend much beauty to the table. (The Book Of The Home, 1900, p. 313) Single holly leaves can be used as guests’ name cards, written on with gold paint’ (San Francisco Call, 1903).

‘The big red bells which can be bought in all stores form most attractive decorations. Hang a large one over your table and let red streamers extend from it to the corners and sides of the table. Fluffy red balls or tiny red bells may be festooned to the streamers which may be either ribbon or crepe paper.’ (The Gem State Rural, 1910)

‘Although elaborate table-centres are not largely used now, the tablecloths themselves are far more elaborate than formerly, and when they are inserted with beautiful lace, as is very often the case, it is, of course, a mistake to hide this with decorations. A coloured underslip is used sometimes with these openwork or lace-trimmed cloths, and the effect is very good if the same hue as the flowers is employed.

Victorian Christmas Table Setting
Ivy and robins are a delightful combination for a Christmas table (Every Woman’s Encyclopaedia, 1910-2)

Ivy and robins are a delightful combination for a Christmas table. A square of white silk that has been embroidered with a design in floss silk and silver thread is placed under a handsome centre-piece filled with luscious fruits, white chrysanthemums and asparagus fern.

The white silk square is bordered with sprays of fine ivy leaves, and the sprays cross at each corner; other sprays extend from the centre to the edges of the table, and they have all been frosted. A robin filled with sweeties is placed in front of each guest.

Victorian Christmas Table Decoration
A beautifully arranged table for a Christmas party Selfridge (Every Woman’s Encyclopaedia, 1910-2)

If you are decorating the table for a buffet or stand-up supper, garland the front and sides with smilax, fastening a pretty cluster of Parma violets where the smilax garland is caught up. Some little joy bells hanging from ribbons would be appropriate between the festoons.

To make the violet chains, strip the blossoms from their stalks, and thread them carefully on to lengths of cotton. The cotton must be strong enough to hold the weight of the blossoms, but not so coarse as to break the delicately poised petals.

The dessert doyleys are an important part of the table decorations nowadays, and the wise hostess will make her own and let originality be their keynote. For the robin and ivy table nothing would be prettier than white silk cut out in the form of large ivy leaves and buttonhole stitched with ivy-green silk.’ (Every Woman’s Encyclopaedia, 1910-2)

‘I have known many beautiful Christmas dinner-tables […] set out with family plate representing heirlooms of several generations; tables that have been decorated with a profusion of flowers fresh from country greenhouses and exquisite in their loveliness. And I have been at dinners when merry-making prevailed, and the centre of the table was adorned with a small Nuremberg Christmas-tree lighted with candles, hung with tiny toys, and surrounded by the faces of happy children. I have been at many, as I said; but for charm, and beauty, and radiance, I have never known one to exceed in loveliness a bare mahogany table trimmed with nothing but holly berries and leaves.

The round table, at which seats for ten were laid, was highly polished, so that it shone like the glass and crystal with which it was set. All the lights in the room were turned down except that of the circular drop-light from the chandelier shaded in red and brought to within a few inches of the tops of the candles. The red shades of the candles were decorated with holly. A wreath of red holly was placed in the centre of the table round the fruit. Bunches of holly were scattered about the table and tucked into each napkin. The bon-bons imitated the berry. I am quite sure that a white cloth would have robbed the table of its charm’. (Homes And Their Decoration, 1903)





Popular Christmas Greenery

Victorian Women Making Christmas Wreaths
Preparing Christmas greens – making wreaths, 1880

‘The wreathing is made of Holly (Ilex opaca), the berries of the deciduous Holly or Black Alder (Ilex verticillata) doing duty for the regular berries of the evergreen Holly. “Pine wreathing” is Lycopodium dendroideum – and “crowfoot wreathing,” which is Lycopodium complanatum – these used to be called Ground Pine, and (the latter) festoon Ground Pine, but common names change every year or two. Then the Laurel (Kalmia latifolia) and the Teaberry (Gaultheria procumbens) complete the list of wreathing materials. Mistletoe branches are growing in favor, and a quantity with pure white berries, coming in barrels from Europe, met with ready sales.’ (The Gardener’s Monthly, 1887)

‘Christmas decorations are of many kinds. […] Pillars and balconies are draped with wild smilax, chandeliers and gas jets are adorned with holly branches, the mistletoe bough hangs in some convenient nook, and the evening has all the features of old England (except the accent of the people) a hundred years ago. […]

Laurel and leucothoe are always used in wreathing and are very effective, looking much richer than wreathing of ground pine. The magnolia sprays are fine on panels or walls and should not be crowded, but should show their fine outlines. Holly is prettiest in branches and sprays, and there are lots of places to use it. The wild smilax is the greatest acquisition of all. Just wound around pillars, covering ceilings, or on the outlines of arches, it is grand and becoming.’ (The Florists’ Manual, 1906)

-> How to make an old-fashioned Christmas wreath from scratch

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