Decorating Tips for a Victorian Christmas Decorating Tips for a Victorian Christmas

During the Victorian age, the dining room was under the charge of the "lady of the house." It was her domain. When Christmas drew near, it was she who was in charge of decorating. It was expected that she would create a warm family atmosphere while ensuring that all visitors would be duly impressed. This was no small chore. Proper etiquette had to be rigidly followed.

Publishers of books and magazines of the day were quick to give advice on how to "do the right thing." Here is a sample of tips that were given to Victorian ladies.

  • Always use green felt under tablecloths to deaden the sound of cutlery and dishes being placed to and fro during the meal service. To hear these sounds is gauche and unrefined.

  • Purchase the most beautiful and expensive blooms that you (your husband) can afford and place them in the center of the dining room table (or sideboard, but the table is preferred).

    Some ideas are: bittersweet, rose hips, ivy, laurel, chrysanthemums, camellias, orchids, roses, hyacinths and poinsettias. By putting them in the center of the table you will force your guests to gaze upon them and praise you for: 1) your creativity, 2) your understanding of modern décor and what's appropriate to your station in life 3) Your husband's ability to pay for what everyone sees.

  • Attach variegated holly, or ferns entwined with lily of the valley to your chandelier and suspend the garlands to the four corners of the table. Allow some to cascade into the center of the table below the chandelier. Do not worry if this blocks the view of your guests across the table. Talking across the table to another guest is a mark of an unrefined person and a serious social breech. Assigned seating was invented for a reason - so that your guests contain their conversation to those to the right and left of them.

  • Always follow an appropriate theme - it keeps one's decorating on track, and a "formula" ensures one does not create any mistakes in decorating that could affect one's position in the best circles of society.

  • Use copious amounts of natural greens in your Christmas decorating. It will signal your family's appreciation for all things natural and interest in that newest of all sciences: botany.

  • Ensure you have plenty of family photographs in the parlor for all your guests to admire. This will impress your husband's employer since he will be viewed positively as a "family man" and this will certainly bode well for his chance of success.

  • Do not forget to display your handiwork (and your daughter's) in the parlor for all to see. This includes your needlework and any painted china or artwork. It must not be forgotten that a lady's proficiency in the womanly arts is a measure of her worth to society.

  • Ensure your meal contains at least twenty separate dishes, preferably thirty. If your husband has the monetary capability, the new "French meal service" should be investigated. All the best people will be serving their meals in this new way.

  • Keep the tea, the silver and any spirits locked up until the last moment - one never knows when the servants will take advantage of your good nature during the Christmas Season.

  • Only when you have personally ensured all of the above will you be in the position to have a Merry Christmas.

Resource: The Dime circa 1855

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