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A Victorian Christmas with the Brunels

The first Christmas card by John Horsley ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Christmas at the Brunels!

The Brunel family lived during the Victorian era and they would have adopted many of traditions that became popular at the time. They would have decorated their Christmas tree with candles (they didn’t have fairy lights!), sweets and fruit, and sent Christmas cards to friends and family.

Marc Brunel was a devoted father, and he was full of fun! When his children were young, he spent a great deal of time tutoring them, which was unusual for the time. He taught his daughters Emma and Sophia, as well as his son Isambard.

They would have enjoyed playing Victorian parlour games as a family. Although sometimes they went a bit far, Isambard trying to amuse his own children once accidentally swallowed a coin whilst performing a magic trick – he had to invent a device that could hold him upside down to help doctors get it out!

Victorian Christmas Cards

The origin of the Christmas card actually has a connection to the Brunels! In 1843 Henry Cole asked his artist friend John Horsley to make a card for him to send out at Christmas. The artist was Isambard’s brother-in-law, as Mary Elizabeth Horsley married Isambard in 1836.

Horsley’s card became the most popular Christmas card of the Victorian era. It featured a family sitting around a dinner table and a Christmas message. However, the card did cause some controversy because it depicted a small child drinking wine!

The first Christmas card by John Horsley ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

The idea of Christmas cards really caught on and Victorian children were encouraged to make their own cards. Even Queen Victoria had her children make cards! The Brunel family would have taken part in this new tradition and so can you!

Horsley’s first Christmas card would have been hand-coloured, you can have a go at colouring it for yourself, for the template click here.

Soon, advancements in printing meant they could mass produce cards and they started to feature flowers and summer scenes to cheer people up during the dark and cold winter months!

Create your own Victorian flowery Christmas card, for the template click here.

Victorian Christmas Presents and Gifts

At the beginning of the Victorian period families often gave and received presents to celebrate the New Year. But, as the importance of Christmas grew, the gift-giving was moved to Christmas.

Like other Victorian families, the Brunels would have given and received presents. These would have been small gifts such as fruits, nuts, sweets and handmade items. All the gifts were hung from the branches of the Christmas tree. They would have made cone-like decorations to store nuts and fruits on the tree, these were called cornucopias!

Make your own paper chains and cornucopias to decorate your tree, for the template click here.

Watch the video to see one of our volunteers make their own cornucopia!

We would love to see your Christmas creations so do send them to us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. You can find even more Christmas projects at BBC – Victorian Christmas – Activities . Enjoy and have a merry Christmas !

 

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