Victorian New Year’s Celebrations Were Full of Mysticism
Victorians thought New Years was important because what you were doing on that day was what you would be doing for the rest of the year. If you stayed at home you might doom you to a year of illness that kept you inside. Victorians did not work on New Year’s because they wanted a life as leisurely as possible. British Victorians would socialize and make merry, this was not a time to stay home as it might foretell illness and bad luck in the year to come. New Year’s was a time for foretelling the future. Victorians believed that there was an active unseen world. Plus they were deeply superstitious. After all, it was in Victorian times that having seances became popular. Some Victorians would predict each others fortunes with reading tea leaves. Victorians who were even more devoted to the occult would gaze into crystal balls.
On the last day of every year the ashes from the hearth were swept completely away. That was symbolic of sweeping away all the ugliness of the old year and welcoming the New Year with a clean start. Cleaning out the ashes from the hearth was to be done on New Year’s Eve as a sign of sweeping away all the past year’s ills and ushering in the new year with a clean slate. You would not let your fire out in a Victorian home , or even take a candle or lantern out. To do so would be considered letting the fire go out of the home. The home’s threshold was also significant. When the midnight bells struck the Victorians would open their doors and shout out “Welcome” to all that was good. It is believed that they often would throw a cake against the door to prove that they believed this would be a year without hunger and want!
The Victorians Loved to Merge Science and Christmas Together (Part One)
These days, the only science involved in Christmas is domestic science; namely for how long and at what temperature to cook the turkey so as neither to poison the guests nor incinerate the bird. However, surprising though it may seem, science once played as important a role at Christmas time as gift-giving or cracker-pulling do now. This was in no small part down to the fact that just as Christmas was undergoing its transformation to become a popular festival, so too was science coming to capture the minds and intrigue the imaginations of Victorians the land over.
Newspapers, books, magazines; all advertised family-friendly, science-related Christmas presents and experiments that could be purchased and practised at home. Not that science mania was only confined to the home of course. Pantomime productions took up science-related themes, and in the 1830s London’s Adelaide Gallery started putting on productions of popular musical piecesâHayden’s “Creation” and Handel’s “Messiah”, for exampleâwhich featured electrical light shows or giant projections of microscopic organisms.
The Victorians Loved to Merge Science and Christmas Together (Part Two)
In the late 1840s, John Henry Pepper, the show business scientist of Victorian Britain, arrived on the scene to really spice things up. He treated the Victorians to a number of scientific marvels, transforming the Royal Polytechnic Institution (of which he was head) into a winter wonderland of electric lights, wacky inventions, and an enormous Christmas tree packed full of scientific gifts for children. The real showstopper, though, was “Pepper’s Ghost”. Aghast crowds would be treated to an uncannily lifelike phantom floating onstage; the projected plate-glass reflection of an actor concealed from view in another room.
There is, however, one yuletide tradition that has yet to fall by the wayside. Every year since 1825 (excluding 1939 – 42 when any would-be participants were too busy fighting the Germans), the Royal Institution in London has held its annual Christmas Lecture. The man behind the idea was renowned scientist Michael Faraday, who delivered 19 of them himself. The lectures were aimed at a general audience, and those giving them sought to deliver a scientific topic in an engaging, accessible way. Guest speakers throughout the years have included Sir David Attenborough and Richard Dawkins.