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Weird Christmas! By Rachael Bowers, Assistant Curator of History

When searching through the York Castle Museum’s collection of beautiful Christmas objects, Assistant Curator of History Rachael Bowers came across the more unusual aspects of Christmas past…

We are fortunate at York Castle Museum to have a large collection of beautiful Christmas decorations and cards. Many of these are now decorating the period rooms and our Victorian Street as part of our Victorian Christmas.

When searching through the collection, we came across some unusual aspects of Christmas past – so we decided to focus the Museum’s Object of the Month display on the weirder side of Christmas…

Image 1: Children being attacked by bees, 1860s

Before people sent Christmas cards, they sent New Year’s cards. These developed out of calling cards and often had a seasonal image stuck onto an existing card.

The development of chromolithography, a unique method for making multi-colour prints, meant that more complex and detailed images could be printed.

To the Victorians, the quality of the image was often more important than the subject matter, which might explain this bizarre scene.

Image 2: Clown accosting a policeman, 1870s

Christmas cards were a form of popular art and would be displayed for everyone to see in the home. People would discuss the cards with their family or guests, and newspapers reviewed the latest designs.

Comic cards like these were not considered to be the finest form of the art, but they were incredibly popular. Teachers, policemen and other authority figures were often the butt of the joke in Victorian comic cards.

Image 3: ‘Dudelet’ cat, 1886
Although this sinister cat claims to be English, his publisher Louis Prang was based in Boston, Massachusetts and was known as ‘the Father of American Christmas cards’.

Image 4: Dead birds, c.1900
For the Victorians, anticipating your delicious Christmas meal was part of the festive season. This meant that rather unusual cards depicting dead turkeys, talking Christmas puddings and pigs lining up for the slaughter were commonplace. Realistic illustrations of nature (dead or alive) were also popular.

Children and adults would collect cards like this and stick them into an album, which could be looked at again on a rainy day.

All of these objects are on display in December’s Object of the Month case at York Castle Museum.

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