The Christmases of Queen Victoria

Christmases have been kept with much bountifulness, but after the gracious manner of a Christian Queen who cares more for the welfare of her beloved subjects than for ostentatious display.

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Her Majesty's Royal bounties to the poor of the metropolis and its environs, and also to others in the country districts surrounding the several Royal Palaces are well known, the ancient Christmas and New Year's gifts being dispensed with great generosity. The number of aged and afflicted persons usually relieved by the Lord High Almoner in sums of 5s. and 13s. exceeds an aggregate of 1,200. Then there is the distribution of the beef—a most interesting feature of the Royal Bounty—which takes place in the Riding School at Windsor Castle, under the superintendence of the several Court officials. The meat, divided into portions of from three pounds to seven pounds, and decorated with sprigs of holly, is arranged upon a table placed in the middle of the Riding School, and covered with white cloths from the Lord Steward's department of the palace. During the distribution the bells of St. John's Church ring a merry peal. There are usually many hundreds of recipients and the weight of the beef allotted amounts to many thousands of pounds. Coals and clothing and other creature comforts are liberally dispensed, according to the needs of the poor. In times of war and seasons of distress hospitable entertainments, Christmas-trees, etc., are also provided for the wives and children of soldiers and sailors on active service; and in many other ways the Royal Bounty is extended to the poor and needy at Christmastide.

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The Christmas at Windsor Castle, ca.1861

—is thus referred to in the "Life of the Prince Consort" (by Theodore Martin):—
"When Christmas came round with its pleasant festivities and its shining Christmas-trees, it had within it a new source of delight for the Royal parents. 'To think,' says the Queen's 'Journal,' 'that we have two children now, and one who enjoys the sight already, is like a dream!' And in writing to his father the Prince expresses the same feeling. 'This,' he says, 'is the dear Christmas Eve, on which I have so often listened with impatience for your step, which was to usher us into the present-room. Today I have two children of my own to give presents to, who, they know not why, are full of happy wonder at the German Christmas-tree and its radiant candles.'

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"The coming year was danced into in good old English fashion. In the middle of the dance, as the clock finished striking twelve, a flourish of trumpets was blown, in accordance with a German custom. This, the Queen's Journal records, 'had a fine solemn effect, and quite affected dear Albert, who turned pale, and had tears in his eyes, and pressed my hand very warmly. It touched me too, for I felt that he must think of his dear native country, which he has left for me.' "

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Christmas at Osborne 1850

Writing from Cowes, on Christmas Eve, in reference to the Christmas festivities at Osborne in the last decade of the nineteenth century, a correspondent says:—
"After transacting business the Queen drove out this afternoon, returning to Osborne just as the setting sun illumines with its rosy rays the Paladin Towers of her Majesty's marine residence. The Queen desires to live, as far as the cares of State permit, the life of a private lady. Her Majesty loves the seclusion of this lordly estate, and here at Christmas time she enjoys the society of her children and grandchildren, who meet together as less exalted families do at this merry season to reciprocate the same homely delights as those which are experienced throughout the land.

"This afternoon a pleasant little festivity has been celebrated at Osborne House, where her Majesty, with an ever-kindly interest in her servants and dependants, has for many years inaugurated Christmas in a similar way, the children of her tenantry and the old and infirm enjoying by the Royal bounty the first taste of Christmas fare. The Osborne estate now comprises 5,000 acres, and it includes the Prince Consort's model farm. The children of the labourers—who are housed in excellent cottages—attend the Whippingham National Schools, a pretty block of buildings, distant one mile from Osborne. About half the number of scholars live upon the Queen's estate, and, in accordance with annual custom, the mistresses of the schools, the Misses Thomas, accompanied by the staff of teachers, have conducted a little band of boys and girls — fifty-four in all — to the house, there to take tea and to receive the customary Christmas gifts. Until very recently the Queen herself presided at the distribution; but the Princess Beatrice has lately relieved her mother of the fatigue involved; for the ceremony is no mere formality, it is made the occasion of many a kindly word the remembrance of which far outlasts the gifts. All sorts of rumours are current on the estate for weeks before this Christmas Eve gathering as to the nature of the presents to be bestowed, for no one is supposed to know beforehand what they will be; but there was a pretty shrewd guess to-day that the boys would be given gloves, and the girls cloaks. In some cases the former had had scarves or cloth for suits, and the latter dresses or shawls. Whatever the Christmas presents may be, here they are, arranged upon tables in two long lines, in the servants' hall. To this holly-decorated apartment the expectant youngsters are brought, and their delighted gaze falls upon a huge Christmas-tree laden with beautiful toys. Everybody knows that the tree will be there, and moreover that its summit will be crowned with a splendid doll. Now, the ultimate ownership of this doll is a matter of much concern; it needs deliberation, as it is awarded to the best child, and the judges are the children themselves. The trophy is handed to the keeping of Miss Thomas, and on the next 1st of May the children select by their votes the most popular girl in the school to be elected May Queen. To her the gift goes, and no fairer way could be devised. The Princess Beatrice always makes a point of knowing to whom the prize has been awarded. Her Royal Highness is so constantly a visitor to the cottagers and to the school that she has many an inquiry to make of the little ones as they come forward to receive their gifts.

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"The girls are called up first by the mistress, and Mr. Andrew Blake, the steward, introduces each child to the Princess Beatrice, to whom Mr. Blake hands the presents that her Royal Highness may bestow them upon the recipients with a word of good will, which makes the day memorable. Then the boys are summoned to participate in the distribution of good things, which, it should be explained, consist not only of seasonable and sensible clothing, but toys from the tree, presented by the Queen's grandchildren, who, with their parents, grace the ceremony with their presence and make the occasion one of family interest. The Ladies-in-Waiting also attend. Each boy and girl gets in addition a nicely-bound story-book and a large slice of plum pudding neatly packed in paper, and if any little one is sick at home its portion is carefully reserved. But the hospitality of the Queen is not limited to the children. On alternate years the old men and women resident on the estate are given, under the same pleasant auspices, presents of blankets or clothing. To-day it was the turn of the men, and they received tweed for suits. The aged people have their pudding as well. For the farm labourers and boys, who are not bidden to this entertainment, there is a distribution of tickets, each representing a goodly joint of beef for the Christmas dinner. The festivity this afternoon was brought to a close by the children singing the National Anthem in the courtyard.

"The Queen is accustomed to spend Christmas Day very quietly, attending service at the Chapel at Osborne in the morning, and in the evening the Royal family meeting at dinner. There are Christmas trees for the children, and for the servants too, but the houshold reserves its principal festivity for the New Year—a day which is specially set aside for their entertainment."

The Christmas Festivities at Sandringham

... are observed with generous hospitality by their Royal Highnesses the Prince and Princess of Wales, who take special interest in the enjoyment of their tenants, and also remember the poor. A time-honoured custom on Christmas Eve is the distribution of prime joints of meat to the labourers employed on the Royal estate, and to the poor of the five parishes of Sandringham, West Newton, Babingley, Dersingham, and Wolferton. From twelve to fifteen hundred pounds of meat are usually distributed, and such other gifts are made as the inclemency of the season and the necessities of the poor require. In Sandringham "Past and Present," 1888, Mrs. Herbert Jones says:—"Sandringham, which is the centre of a generous hospitality, has not only been in every way raised, benefited, and enriched since it passed into the royal hands, which may be said to have created it afresh, but rests under the happy glow shed over it by the preference of a princess
"'Whose peerless feature joinèd with her birth,
Approve her fit for none but for a king.'
Shakespeare's Henry VI."

The Christmas Generosity of the late Duke of Edinburgh

In a letter to the press a lieutenant of Marines makes the following reference to a Christmas entertainment given by H.R.H. the Duke of Edinburgh, in 1886: "Last night a large party, consisting of many officers of the Fleet, including all the 'old ships' of the Duke, and three or four midshipmen from every ship in the Fleet, were invited to a Christmas-tree at S. Antonio Palace. In the course of the evening two lotteries were drawn, all the numbers being prizes, each guest consequently getting two. I have had an opportunity of seeing many of these, and they are all most beautiful and useful objects, ranging in value from five shillings to perhaps three or four pounds. I should think that at least half the prizes I have seen were worth over one pound."

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