Bizarre Victorian fact of the day...

Although the turkey had been brought to Britain in the 16th century, it did not become the centre of the Christmas Day meal until the mid Victorian period. Traditionally, and for much of the 19th century, the bird of choice was the goose. The reason for this was that before the invention of the railway train and efficient refrigeration the only way to get poultry to market was by walking them (known as driving) from their farm.

While geese were lean and able to make the sometimes long journey without trouble, turkeys were not as well suited for such travel. They had to be fed copiously before and after the walk to ensure they were a decent size for sale, which added extra expense to already financially stretched farmers. Their feet had to be covered with leather bootees or dipped in tar to withstand walking on the rough roads. In Britain, turkeys were bred almost solely in Norfolk, in the East of England, which limited their sale to London and neighbouring counties. When the railways were developed, the need to drive poultry diminished as they could now be easily and quickly transported from place to place. With this new availability turkey quickly became a firm Christmas favourite - a large bird to suit a large Victorian family.

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This gorgeous volume, Leaflets of Memory, is part of an 11 volume annual serial published by E.H. Butler Co. in Philadelphia. The publisher partnered with Altemus Bindery, a local Philadelphia bindery that produced beautiful works. These works were often presented as gifts as you can see from the elaborate presentation page.  This annual features illuminations on the first several pages and then switches to black and white plates to accompany the many poems. Reminds me of the holidays!

Happy holidays to all of you!

Jillian

AY11 .L6 1848

Large (OASC)

This Harper’s Weekly illustration, Christmas Eve, 1862, was engraved by Thomas Nast for the January 3rd publication of 1863.

Thomas Nast—a political cartoonist—depicts Christmas Eve in the midst of the American Civil War.

In the right-hand image, a union soldier looks at a pair of daguerreotypes, one of his wife and one of his two children. On the left side, that same family prepare for Christmas. His children sleep by a fireplace, festooned with the paraphernalia of both the season and the war—stockings hang under a tin soldier; a drum, bugle, and bayonet stand beside a wreathed portrait of their father. The mother kneels by the window and prays.

Even the peripheries of the image are engaged in conveying Nast’s message: scenes of battles and graves, but also of a sleigh-riding Santa, delivering packages to Union camp and cozy chimney alike.

Merry Christmas, dear reader, to all of you who celebrate!