Through the 1830s and 1840s, the previously modest festival of Christmas was reinvented in Britain, for the first time incorporating many aspects that we know today (such as trees, greetings cards, and family-based festivity). Old traditions of carol singing were reclaimed too, notably in books by William Sandys (1792–1874).
In this 1830s broadsheet – a large illustrated one-sheet publication sold cheaply on the streets – is a very early appearance of the carol 'God rest ye merry gentlemen'.
It is often said that ‘authentic’ versions of the verse require a comma after the word ‘merry’. There is none here, though the mis-spelling of ‘CRHISTMAS’ in the line above suggests that speed was more important than accuracy for a publisher keen to address the seasonal market.
The headline item, 'While shepherds watch’d', is another early appearance of a now-familiar carol. Again, proofreading appears hurried – they are visited by the ‘angle’ of the Lord – but the illustrations are relatively lavish for the time.
- Article by:
- John Sutherland
- Poverty and the working classes, The novel 1832–1880, London
Professor John Sutherland considers how Dickens’s A Christmas Carol engages with Victorian attitudes towards poverty, labour and the Christmas spirit.
- Article by:
- Judith Flanders
- The middle classes, Popular culture
Judith Flanders describes how many of our own Christmas traditions – from trees and crackers to cards and carols – have their origins in 19th-century industrial and commercial interests.