16 December 2016: A Christmas History
The Christmas we know today was inspired and somewhat created during the 19th century. The creation of a more commercial Christmas slowly grew throughout the century and several popular traditions were established by the Victorians. For example, Prince Albert introduced the German tradition of the Christmas Tree to England and the very first Christmas card was sent in 1843.
With the encouragement for people to spend more money at Christmas and the Industrial Revolution reducing the cost of production, several publishing companies produced affordable 'gift books' for the festive season. These gifts were often anthologies of poetry and essays or almanacs of the years' events.
The earliest known example of the gift book in England is Rudolph Ackermann's Forget-Me-Not
which was first published in 1822. Ackermann appointed Frederick Shoberl as the editor of the illustrated work. Each annual contained a plate for each month of the year, which were commissioned before the stories or poems had been written. The author would then have to write a piece to suit the illustration. As well as fiction the work contained a review of the previous year's events. The popularity of this work led to there being sixty-three annual gift books being published in England by 1832 and Forget-Me-Not'
s own popularity steadily increased with a consistent print run until its final publication in 1856. We have several
copies of Forget-Me-Not
from as early as the 1825 edition. Our 1828 copy of the annual is held in the original rare slipcase
Another popular example of a gift book we have are the yearly editions of Punch or The London Charivari. The satirical and humorous periodical was originally published on a weekly basis. Punch's national popularity led the publishers to create an additional annual edition, intended to be published near the end of the year, as a Christmas present. The yearly edition of Punch contained the articles, poems, cartoons and stories from the previous 12 months in addition to featuring a special Christmas preface. The Christmas preface often contained Mr Punch's review of the year which was started by John Tenniel.
One famous contributor to Punch
and an even bigger contributor to the Christmas print market was William Makepeace Thackeray. Thackeray's Christmas Books
are today often overshadowed by his contemporary Charles Dickens' well known tales such as A Christmas Carol
. However, Thackeray's humorous, satirical, and profusely illustrated musings were incredibly popular at their time of publication. His Christmas works were often included in further anthologies such as another Christmas gift book we have titled Christmas with the Poets
. This anthology contains songs, carols and verse relating to Christmas and has contributions from Shakespeare, George Wither and Thomas Tusser among many more.
Following the theme of joyful and humorous Christmas books we have a brilliant set of amusing gift books from the late nineteenth century. Puniana and More Puniana are a collection of jokes, riddles and humorous illustrations. The works are edited and illustrated by Hugh Rowley, a popular writer of humorous and absurd works. To these volumes Rowley addresses the reader throughout whilst occasionally using witty and sarcastic asides which function as clues to the riddles of the main text. These books intend to bring fun to all the family and facilitate humorous after dinner conversation.
The Victorians had the right idea when it came to producing gift books, or annual publications for Christmas, as they are still produced and sold today. Our view may be slightly biased when it comes to thinking of a book as one of the best Christmas presents you can buy, but it seems to have worked for the last few centuries.