Dec 142016

Victorian Christmas at Dalnavert

Decorations and the reading of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol
at Dalnavert Museum, a restored 1895 Winnipeg home

Dalnavert was built as a home for a well-to-do family in Winnipeg, Manitoba in the late nineteenth century. It has been restored and is now a museum. Every Christmas season, the house, decorated in Victorian style, hosts readings of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

Dalnavert Museum, Winnipeg Manitoba

This photo of Dalnavert was taken in spring time

Dalnavert was built in 1895 for Hugh John Macdonald, businessman, politician and son of Canada’s first Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald. The Macdonald family lived in the house until Hugh’s death in 1929. The building became a rooming house for the next forty years. In 1969, the Manitoba Historical Society rescued it from planned demolition and restored the house to recreate the life of a well-to-do family in Winnipeg in 1895. The Queen Anne Revival style building  is now a museum and a Provincial and National Historic Site. As I approached the building on a December evening, there was nothing on the outside to indicate the Christmas season. The inside was a different story. It was a perfect setting to listen to A Christmas Carol.

Victorian Christmas at Dalnavert

Carollers in the parlour

Christmas was barely celebrated at the beginning of the nineteenth century in England. By the end of the century, it had become a big celebration. Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s husband, is credited with bringing about some of the change, including the introduction of the Christmas tree, a tradition from his German childhood.

Victorian Christmas at Dalnavert

Decorating the home became a more elaborate affair. Card giving became popular. The tradition of giving gifts at New Year moved to Christmas.

Victorian Christmas at Dalnavert

Sock hung at the end of the bed in one of the bedrooms

Victorian Christmas at Dalnavert

Dining table set for the feast

Christmas crackers became a tradition after British confectioner Tom Smith introduced packages filled with sweets in 1848. The packages snapped when pulled apart. Today’s Christmas crackers contain small gifts, party hats and sometimes jokes. The Christmas feast, with family gathered round, became the centre of Christmas celebration.

Victorian Christmas at Dalnavert

Plum pudding on the sideboard

Victorian Christmas at Dalnavert

A menu listing what might have been served Christmas 1895 stood on the table. The menu included oyster soup, poached turbot, roast turkey, cranberry sauce, onions in cream sauce, brussel sprouts, plum pudding and sauce, mince pie, lemon tarts, salted almonds, celery, crackers, cheese and fruit.

Victorian Christmas at Dalnavert

Even Mr. Macdonald’s study is decorated

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens was published in 1843. It helped popularize and spread the traditions of Christmas with themes of family, charity, goodwill and peace. Dickens was involved with charities and concerned with social conditions. He wrote the novella out of concern for impoverished children and the working poor.

Victorian Christmas at Dalnavert: stage for reading of A Christmas Carol

A stage was set up in the attached auditorium for the reading of A Christmas Carol. Award-winning playwright Ian Ross was the reader the evening I attended. I’ve seen film versions of A Christmas Carol, but I don’t recall ever reading the book. It was nice to sit back and have it read to me.

Victorian Christmas at Dalnavert: Dickens Village

Dickens Village scenes

Display cases along one wall of the auditorium contained Dickens Village scenes. The exhibit featured selected pieces donated in memory of R.S.L. Lobban. Mr. Lobban spent more than two decades collecting the items, on permanent display in his home. Mounting the display at Christmas will become a Dalnavert tradition.

Attending the reading of A Christmas Carol at Dalnavert was a nice way to slow down during this busy season. It was reminder to pay attention to the lives around us and that the true Christmas spirit comes from giving.

There will be only a few performances of A Christmas Carol in 2017 on the evenings of December 21 to December 24. Other Christmas events include It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play on December 15 and 16, A Child’s Victorian Christmas Story Sunday afternoons on December 3, 10 and 17, and A Very Victorian Pudding Challenge, a seasonal Victorian bake-off following the premise of television shows The Great British Bake-Off and The Great Canadian Baking Show, on December 9. See the museum’s event page for information.

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  18 Responses to “Victorian Christmas at Dalnavert”

  1. What a beautiful setting for a reading of Dickens. So much more character than Santa Claus at the mall.

  2. For years, when we lived in Montana, I dreamed of buying an old Victorian home so I loved your photos of the of Dalnavert. Such a perfect setting for a storybook Christmas with the beautiful furnishings and lovely china. I can easily picture myself, sipping hot spiced wine and listening to a reading of “A Christmas Carole.” What fun! Anita

  3. Hi Donna, what a beautiful traditional way to celebrate Christmas. Happy Holidays to you and yours and Happy New Year!

  4. I was interested to realise that what we think of as a traditional Christmas only originated in the 19th century. Dalnavert looks like a lovely place to explore Christmas traditions.

  5. It’s interesting to learn that Prince Albert had introduced the Christmas tree. This is a different way to celebrate.

  6. Gosh, it would have been a real shame if this beautiful period home would have been demolished – it seems to be a real treasure! Personally I’m not very attracted by Christmas rituals but I would be very interested to visit any other time of the year. (For too long I have had stalls at Christmas markets. Once you witness, day in day out, the mad pre-Christmas rush from behind a stall counter, listening 10 hours a day to Christmas music, it all loses its attraction.)

    • Juergen, I can understand how time behind a stall counter and 10 hours a day of Christmas music would take away the appeal of the season. Dalnavert is a treasure and great to visit at other times of the year as well.

  7. I absolutely love the old fashioned setting and warmth that your photos captured Donna. This would be a Christmas must for me if I were close enough! Merry Christmas to you~

    • I’ve wanted to attend this for years, but this year was the first time it worked out. I suspect it won’t be the last time I attend.

  8. Hi, Donna! What an intersting piece of Canadian history, and a prefect spot for reading Dickens. Love the photos, and the Christmas tree trivia.

  9. Hi, Donna. I am ashamed to admit that I have never been to Dalnavert. How wonderful that they deck the place up for Christmas complete with Carollers! Thx so much for sharing, and have a wonderful New Year’s.

    • Doreen, it was nice to visit Dalnavert over Christmas, but it is well worth a visit any time of the year, especially if you take a guided tour. The background is interesting.

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