Harry Furniss aged 26, at about the time he st...

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Because Christmas is basically a domestic celebration, the home is given much credit even in such public spaces as the theatre. In 1883, the Topsyturvey pantomime is called The Fairy of Home showing “how many a British home is cheered by the light-hearted daughter of the house!” (issue 1174, 22 Dec. 1883, p. 404). Harry Furniss first plays this merry domestic woman, and then magically turns into a College lecturer, inventing a “Vice-Versa.” Paterfamilias is given the responsibility to save Christmas boxes, all in all “an acceptable relief to the general monotony of domestic hearth” (issue 1174, 22 Dec. 1883, p. 404). This colourful atmosphere can also be taken home “through the medium of a lively Charade or a jovial game of ‘Dumb Crambo’” (issue 1174, 22 Dec. 1883, p. 404).

At least one time a year, balls are not only reserved to the adults. Christmas balls have versions especially dedicated to children. For these “Juvenile Fancy-Dress Balls,” children are encouraged to dress in historical costumes – even though mythological decent versions are also sometimes seen. In the 1880s, these dazzling, happy and enthusiastic “merry-meetings of little ones” (issue 1174, 22 Dec. 1883, p. 404) are already a constantly growing tradition. Certainly, the costumes are not only historical, mothers would go at great lengths to create attires that are as remarkable as possible, and thus making their children stand out from the crowd. These balls are a great occasion for carnivalesque colours and laughter to meet in a controlled environment:

The tiny pride with which each fancy garment is worn; the unrestrained pleasure with which quadrilles, polkas and waltzes are danced; the rapid displacing of shyness by confidence; the delight with which Tom Smith’s Costume bonbons are greeted at a super calculated to make Master Dick Bultitude’s mouth water; and the sustained freshness of the little people throughout, are certain to amply repay each well-to-do host and hostess for each entertainment of this kind they may provide this Christmas. (issue 1174, 22 Dec. 1883, p. 404)

Going to the first pantomime of the season is certainly a ritual in which all the family, servants and even pets participate religiously. In this way Mrs. Jonathan Jones (fig. ) and her family are shown leaving home, struggling into the cab, as “Napoleon crossing the Alps” (Going to the Pantomime, issue 65, 3 Jan. 1863, p. 4), on their road to a performance that will make children laugh from their hearts and the adults smile quietly enjoying this sight, of course, at the theatre, after all the fuss over getting to the panto is over:

Behind, on the paternal arm; hangs Miss Betsy, who is all smiles and dimples, and clogs like Miss Pyne. On the other side, Miss Julie takes her father’s arm: she slogs unlike Grid, but dogs not think so. The juvenile beside his mother is Mister Bob, and appears to be imitating Mr. Weal, the new Clown. The small boy with the big hat, and the peculiar bincole – certainly not marked by the name of Voigtlander, the king of the opera glasses – in Master Harry, mild sad, meek – the lamb to his brother’s lions; while the gay deceiver, who, with his hand on his heart and his toes turned in – the original manner, by-the-way, in which mankind walked – and who is pouring love-sweets into the little ears of gentle Fanny, is a smatchet, from a neighbouring house, one Tommy. (Going to the Pantomime, issue 65, 3 Jan. 1863, p. 4)

Not only the parents and children fussed about. The servants – here the “two smiling nurses – one with the baby,” seem to be excited about going to the show as well, “as though they were going themselves” (Going to the Pantomime, issue 65, 3 Jan. 1863, p. 4). In any case, not everybody was happy about what was going on, like the very shy doctor’s boy “with an innate disgust of his unsavoury cargo,” but, thinking of what’s to come, he “has bright visions of the Clown, and is thinking of throwing his basket over an area and striking on to the cab behind” (Going to the Pantomime, issue 65, 3 Jan. 1863, p. 4), without much success, however. One could also see a very grip Jeames, while a bit of the cabman is also visible to show how liberal Mr. Jones is:

And the upper portion of a cabman’s body, with his whip, has been introduced, indicating with singular clearness the liberality of Mr. Jones in taking two cabs. The children follow in the second chariot, with the guardian Jeames, “who has been in the family wellnigh seventeen years.” (Going to the Pantomime, issue 65, 3 Jan. 1863, p. 4)

Tradition is what drives Christmas rituals and activities. Christmas performances, masques, all performed in the “old English style” (issue 693-4, 19 Dec. 1874, p. 402). And what can be more impressive than a glittering Christmas performance created especially for aristocratic audiences. Performances like the Lord Mayor Stone’s Christmas masque played for Charles II in Mansion House’s Egyptian Hall on Christmas Eve. The act has well risen to the quality expected for such a lustrous audience:

Whilst Dan o red Godfrey’s band discoursed sweet music, reviving for the occasion the most tuneful of old English airs, the King and Queen of the City, seated in state on their throne at the east end of the hall, and attended by the Sheriffs and Court of Alderman and a brilliant court of ladies, might well receive Old Father Christmas in the welcome shape shown in our Illustrations. Who would represent the jovial and merry genius of the gladsome festive season better than the gallant City knight, whose genial, rubicund face, and white curly hair and free-and-easy manners are so familiar to the London public, of which he is so great a favourite? (issue 693-4, 19 Dec. 1874, p. 402)

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