The tradition of having a Christmas tree goes back to the early 1800s when Queen Charlotte (queen to George III) set up the tradition of having a candle-lit tree, with presents and ribbons hanging on the branches inside the palace at Windsor. Soon after this, the idea of the Christmas box which children could open on Christmas Eve started. The two soon became familiar rituals in the homes of many well-to-do families.
One book in the Baines Collection held in the UCL Institute of Education’s Special Collections is a delightful little annual that brings this concept into print. It is entitled The Christmas Box and was published in 1829. The book measures 16.2 cm x 10.2 cm in size. Books for children like this were typically small and designed to fit into a child’s hands. A Christmas Box has some lovely woodcut prints and books such as this one gives us information about book design and also what children from upper- and middle-class families read.
A Christmas Box is a collection of stories edited by T. Crofton Croker. It includes short stories, verses, plays and articles and even a brief history of the Napoleonic wars. Two that stand out for me are the ‘Battle of Frogs and Mice,’ which is a short animal epic ascribed to Homer, and ‘The Three Caskets’, used in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. The collection also comprises a couple of firsts. It includes the first appearance of a Norwegian folktale ‘The History of Asim and Asgard’ and the first publication of Sir Walter Scott’s poem ‘The Bonnets of Bonny Dundee’ (Hahn, 2015, p. 127). In addition, there are the stories by the educator and prolific author, Maria Edgeworth (1768 – 1849). She is probably best known for her well-known education treatise Practical Education (2nd edition, 1801) which is also in the IOE’s Special Collections. The book concludes with a collection of carols and a message for the reader, which seems an appropriate one to share with you as we get ready for the holidays.
“And now, little dears, we have only to wish you all good wishes,
and to thank you for your patience in perusing our small present.
May you all spend your Christmas holidays pleasantly, with every enjoyment and entertainment,
and be ready, when we meet again, to glance over our pages with the same good humour and glee as we trust you have done.
And so GOOD BYE.”
Happy Holidays and Best Wishes for the New Year from All of Us!