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Bored during Christmas? Try these 4 festive Victorian things to do

Posted:
21 December 2016
Posted By:
Clare Wilson
Categories:
Things To Do

If there’s nothing on the telly, you’re fed up with turkey and you’re struggling to find ways to keep yourself busy over the holidays, take some inspiration from history. The Victorians were as ingenious at finding things to do as they were in almost every other aspect of life. Keep your family entertained with these games and activities, and beat boredom – the Victorian way.

1. Take the original Mannequin Challenge – a Tableau Vivant

Over the autumn you might have seen groups taking up the Mannequin Challenge (people posing mid-action while a camera moves around them) – but as with many things, the Victorians got there first.

Beat boredom Victorian party games - here's an example of a 'Tableau Vivant' Royal Collection Trust © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2016

Beat boredom with Victorian party games – here’s an example of a ‘Tableau Vivant’. Royal Collection Trust © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2016

Their version was the ‘tableau vivant’, which means ‘living picture’. Queen Victoria and her guests would gather in the Durbar Room at Osborne and watch as family members in costume posed against a backdrop to portray a famous painting or a scene from history – with a live musical accompaniment from the gallery above. A curtain would fall and the scene would be hastily rearranged before it rose again. If the Queen was amused – and often she was – they could last for several hours.

If you don’t fancy a putting on a full tableau vivant, you could play a party game like The Sculptor:

How you play:

  • Choose one person to be the Sculptor – everyone else stands still (like Statues) in a circle around them.
  • The Sculptor moves the other players into strange poses that are difficult to hold. The challenge is for the Statues not to laugh, break their pose or move.
  • The Sculptor is allowed to distract the other players and encourage them to laugh, but after they’ve put a Statue into its pose, they are not allowed to touch them again.
  • The first Statue to move or laugh loses and becomes the next Sculptor.

2. Try some calisthenics, or go for a walk

Although men and boys were always encouraged to lead active lifestyles, before the mid-1800s it was fairly commonly believed that doing anything too physically strenuous might damage a girl’s long term health. This started to change in the Victorian period, and gentle exercises focusing on the arms and shoulders known as ‘calisthenics’ were developed for girls.

These were meant to ‘expand the chest’ (generally meaning the lungs) and to be an antidote to sitting hunched over needlework.

Illustrations of 'Calisthentics for Ladies' from Cassell's Household Guide via VictorianLondon.org

Illustrations of ‘Calisthentics for Ladies’ from Cassell’s Household Guide via VictorianLondon.org

Walking was heavily promoted as a suitable, healthy exercise too – particularly for girls. Ruth Goodman explains in her book How To Be A Victorian that by the 1860s, daily hour-long walks (especially in the morning) were recommended by the medical profession as a ‘general health tonic’.

Although serious hiking or anything too strenuous was a step too far, walking out in the fresh air was recommended for everyone, from middle class school girls to women in prisons and workhouses.

We have a couple of options for either end of the scale. You can check out the first of our new series of walking guides – a coastal hike from Dover to Deal. Alternatively, take a more leisurely stroll around one of the nine enchanting winter gardens that we’ve picked out.

3. Carry on eating

Many of the traditions which are still popular today were adopted during the 19th century – and food was at the heart of the festivities then, just as it is today. If you fancy trying out some Victorian recipes, find out how to make gingerbread or a festive gin punch – a great alternative to mulled wine at a party.

If you’ve had enough turkey, a novel way of using it up could be as an ingredient in traditional mincemeat. Mrs Crocombe uses ox tongue in our video, but she does suggest that leftovers from a roast dinner would do instead.

As well as celebrating Christmas and New Year, for the upper classes winter meant the shooting season – and potentially a series of houseguests. During one Christmas alone the Braybrooke family and their guests consumed nearly 250kg of meat at Audley End.

4. Give something back

The idea that Christmas is a time for charity predates the Victorians, although the nineteenth century saw huge growth in the number of charities trying to address various problems in society. Some charities founded in the Victorian era are still going strong today – like the Salvation Army and Barnardo’s.

Charity was one of the main themes of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, published in 1843. In the story, Jacob Marley’s ghost comes to warn Ebeneezer Scrooge not to be as selfish as he was during his own life. Jacob learned too late that:

“Mankind was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The deals of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”

A volunteer with a family at Stonehenge

A volunteer with a family at Stonehenge

There are many worthy causes which you may wish to support at this time of year. If you would like to (and are able to) support English Heritage’s work in conserving and protecting historic sites around England, here’s more information about how you can do it. One way is to donate your time as a volunteer – there are all sorts of opportunities around the country.

Looking back on 2016 with English Heritage

2016 has been a very busy year for English Heritage, have you been keeping up?

Have you been paying attention? Take our quiz of the year and find outConsider yourself a Blue Plaques connoisseur? Think you can you spot the features of a Capability Brown Landscape? Take our quiz and discover if you’ve got what it takes to ascend to the heights of a Quiz Master.

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  • About the Author

    Clare Wilson
    Clare is a writer and editor in the English Heritage Digital Content team.

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