CHT214736 The Luge at Chamonix, from 'Femina' (litho) (b/w photo) by French School, (20th century); Bibliotheque des Arts Decoratifs, Paris, France; Archives Charmet; French,  out of copyright

Dreaming of an austerity Christmas?

Banish Bleak Houses and turn your thoughts to times past with 10 thrifty ways to have festive fun this Christmas.

1. Make your own mince pies

The kitchen was a beehive of activity in the Victorian family home. The mass production of kitchen tools such as pastry cutters and biscuit tins during this century reflect the Victorian taste for baking. We know it’s easy to go out and buy shop bought but homemade is infinitely nicer, saves a few pennies and the whole family can get involved. So this Christmas make your own sweet treats.

Front Cover of 'John Bull' (colour litho), English School, (20th century) / Private Collection / © The Advertising Archives
Front Cover of ‘John Bull’ (colour litho), English School, (20th century) / Private Collection / © The Advertising Archives

2. Carol Singing

There is nothing quite like singing in the open air on a frosty December night and then coming home with cold-nipped faces to a warm fire and tipple of mulled wine. Carol singing is one of the oldest customs in Great Britain; the tradition of going from door to door came about because they were banned from churches in the Middle Ages by Oliver Cromwell who thought that Christmas should be a solemn day.

amily Singing Christmas Carols Around Piano, 1937 (hand-colored photo), Unknown Artist, (20th century) / Private Collection / Photo © GraphicaArtis
amily Singing Christmas Carols Around Piano, 1937 (hand-colored photo), Unknown Artist, (20th century) / Private Collection / Photo © GraphicaArtis

3. Preserved Presents

What better way to save pennies than homemade preserves? So take some lessons from the original Victorian cookery writer, Mrs Beeton, and get pickling!

Mrs Beeton’s recipe for carrot jam:

• Carrots: allow 450g/1lb of pounded sugar to every 450g/1lb of carrot pulp
• 1 lemon, the grated rind of
• 2 lemons, the strained juice of
• 6 chopped bitter almonds
• 2 tbsp brandy

Chutney, 2009 (mixed media), John, Henry (Contemporary Artist) / Private Collection /
Chutney, 2009 (mixed media), John, Henry (Contemporary Artist) / Private Collection /

4. Woolly Warmers

Knit and crochet presents for your relatives. Novelty Christmas jumpers with reindeer, snowmen and snowflake designs are not only retro cool this season but help keep the electricity bills down too.

Mittens made in Low Hill, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, c.1850-70 (wool), American School, (19th century) / Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania, PA, USA / Gift of John Joseph Stoudt, 1964
Mittens made in Low Hill, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, c.1850-70 (wool), American School, (19th century) / Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania, PA, USA / Gift of John Joseph Stoudt, 1964

5. Roasting Chestnuts

Chestnuts grow from mid-autumn to early spring, and peak during the festive holiday season—which is why they’re associated with this time of year. Some historians say that roasting chestnuts dates back to the 16th century, when vendors sold the treat on the streets of Rome. Other scholars put their debut in Portugal for St. Martin’s Day, and in Modena, Italy, for St. Simon’s Day.

Pierce the skin of the chestnut with a fork, stick them on a skewer and roast over the coals of an open fire for 15 minutes or until the chestnuts are tender and the shells are beginning to open. Peel when they are cool enough to handle and savour the sweet, nutty taste.

Front cover of 'John Bull', November 1958 (colour litho), English School, (20th century) / Private Collection / © The Advertising Archives
Front cover of ‘John Bull’, November 1958 (colour litho), English School, (20th century) / Private Collection / © The Advertising Archives

6. Winter Walks

Turn the obligatory winter walks after Christmas lunch into a fun activity for all – play games, collect holly, pine cones and berries as festive decorations whilst taking in the beauty of the countryside.

 We are Bringing Home the Holly and the Ivy, 1974 (oil on canvasboard), Bradley, Helen (1900-79) / Private Collection / Photo © Bonhams, London, UK
We are Bringing Home the Holly and the Ivy, 1974 (oil on canvasboard), Bradley, Helen (1900-79) / Private Collection / Photo © Bonhams, London, UK

7. Hay box cooking

Save money, electricity and resources and get experimental in the kitchen this Christmas. During World War I, fuel economies led to the adoption of hay boxes for completing the cooking of partially cooked foods. Hay boxes are so called because hay or straw were the commonly used insulators. Pots of food would be brought to the boil and then placed in a box filled with hay or straw.

WWI British Home Front: economy cooking with a Hay Box (b/w photo), English Photographer, (20th century) / Private Collection / Peter Newark Military Pictures
WWI British Home Front: economy cooking with a Hay Box (b/w photo), English Photographer, (20th century) / Private Collection / Peter Newark Military Pictures

8. Indoor Games

Our Victorian ancestors were the first to associate family fun and parlour games with the seasonal holidays. Ditch shop-bought toys and video games this year and keep the party entertained with cards, board games and other traditional indoor games.

A Critical Moment, detail of children building a house of cards, 1889, Brooker, Harry (1848-1940) / Private Collection / Peter Willi
A Critical Moment, detail of children building a house of cards, 1889, Brooker, Harry (1848-1940) / Private Collection / Peter Willi

9. Snow Fun

Dreaming of a white Christmas? Ice skating, snowman building competitions, sledging and snowball fights are just some of the winter fun to be had.

The Luge at Chamonix, from 'Femina' (litho) (b/w photo), French School, (20th century) / Bibliotheque des Arts Decoratifs, Paris, France / Archives Charmet
The Luge at Chamonix, from ‘Femina’ (litho) (b/w photo), French School, (20th century) / Bibliotheque des Arts Decoratifs, Paris, France / Archives Charmet

10. Relax

However, in the probable event that it does not snow this yuletide, relax by the fireside, warm your cockles and just enjoy doing nothing.

Life is filled with simple pleasures which are either free or cost very little so wear your Christmas jumper with pride, relish spending time with loved ones and get back to basics.

 After Christmas Lunch (signed: Jack) (print) / Private Collection
After Christmas Lunch (signed: Jack) (print) / Private Collection
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