From the desk of Kim Gough, Program Developer, Royal BC Museum
I’ve been thinking about Christmas since July – not because I am a Christmas fanatic, but because that’s when I started working on revisions for our Christmas school program at Helmcken House. Kids from kindergarten to grade two come to learn about Christmas traditions, foods, gifts and games at the turn of the last century. During my research, I looked at a lot of advertisements from the Victoria Daily Colonist, now known as the Times Colonist – a local newspaper that has been in print since 1858.
Often when people imagine Christmas 100 years ago, they picture simpler times, with homemade gifts and decorations and food preserved from the garden. There was that, but as the newspaper will attest, there were electric Christmas tree lights, big bargains for last minute shoppers, imported food and visits with Santa Claus too!
Victoria Daily Colonist, December 24, 1908
Victoria Daily Colonist, December 22, 1907
As for toys, a letter from Alexander Grant Dallas to his father in law Governor Sir James Douglas, sent in 1876, sums up what every generation seems to think:
“According to your wish I gave Xmas gifts…to the children, to the amount of £8 - £1 each all round. The present age is so fast and so different to that when I was their age that it is not easy to satisfy them. They ask for watches, steam engines, bicycles etc, but I try to repress this folly and give them books, or anything I think that may be really useful.” (Christmas in Old Victoria, John Adams, Firgrove Publishing, 2003, page 51)
Hopefully, what will never change is that the holidays continue to be a time of people getting together, eating and playing. You may even wish to make a visit to Helmcken House part of your Christmas tradition when in Victoria. Stop by from December 17-31 between noon and 4 pm. See for yourself what has changed and what has stayed the same.
(Helmcken House, the Royal BC Museum and the IMAX Theatre are closed on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day).