This reference to the absence of a Christmas tree is followed, in a letter to Elizabeth Holland by the words: “Our Xmas days are always very quiet, principally a jollification for the servants.” This has sometimes been taken to indicate that the Gaskells always had a quiet Christmas, but the significant factor in 1852 was that both the older daughters were away from home. In a letter to Marianne, at the same time, Elizabeth writes: “I wish you were at home, though it will be exceedingly quiet here. No one coming, nor going out, except to Chapel. Flossy & Julia send their very very very best loves; we are not going to keep Xmas day till New Years day, partly because you won’t be here, partly because the presents are not ready.” They evidently did not feel they had to make a big thing of Christmas, but they duly enjoyed it: “we are all deep in preparations for Christmas”, Elizabeth wrote in 1849”. Doubtless they shared the common Victorian view that Christmas was a family festival, and their celebrations were affected by which members of the family were at home or away.
A vivid memory of Christmas that remained in Elizabeth’s memory from her childhood was of country children singing carols. “At Knutsford we have Christmas carols, such a pretty custom, calling one from dreamland to almost as mystic a state of mind; half awake and half asleep, blending reality so strangely with the fading visions; and children’s voices too in the dead of the night with their old words of bygone times.” Such a carol is quoted in Elizabeth’s story, “Christmas storms and Christmas sunshine” (1848). Anthony Burton, Volunteer and Trustee at Elizabeth Gaskell’s House
Read all: elizabethgaskellhouse/christmas-with-the-gaskells