Those of you who have read out blog posts in the past, will probably remember we have mentioned the journals of Hilda Zigomala many times before. A collection of 15 volumes which chronicles her life from getting married to Jack in January 1889 to the death of her only child, John in 1919. As we turn to celebrating Christmas it seemed like a nice time to look back through the journals again to see how a wealthy family at the turn of the 19th century celebrated the festive period. Despite the fact her journals begin during the Reign of Queen Victoria, Hilda’s Christmases are not always what we imagine as a typical Victorian Christmas.
First Christmas as a married lady
Although Hilda may have had certain traditions, each year was very different, with the early ones spent in India, where her husband was a member of the 19th Hussars and later with her son in Britain. However, Hilda spent her first Christmas as a married lady at Birch House, near Manchester, with ‘Jack’s people’. There were 15 of them for Christmas that year, and Hilda explains that Christmas day was spent with ‘plenty of games and fun’. She also gives a list of her presents that year, some decorative- a number of people gave her photograph frames, some practical- a silver dessert dish, and a brass rod for an oven door, and some more unusual- with one person giving her a doll (which she lists with 2 exclamation marks after it). However, there were also items that are more a sign of the culture at the time- including 2 stuffed seagulls, and a sign of her wealth- such as the dozen oysters she received.
Christmas in India
The 19th Hussars were posted to India in 1891 and so Christmas 1893 was spent in Madras, India (now known as Chennai). The governor of the area lived in Government House, Fort St. George, but also had use of Guindy. Guindy was a neighbourhood on the outskirts of Madras and contained a large spacious and elegant country home which was surrounded by an extensive park. Near to the park was riding stables and the Guindy Race Track. The days either side of Christmas were spent at the track enjoying the Madras Races, were Hilda illustrates the Governor’s procession down the course.
Celebrating in London
The family moved back to England in 1897 and welcomed their only child, John a year later. From this point on Hilda gives great details of John’s life in her journals and his first Christmas is no exception, drawing a picture of John surrounded by his presents, from puppets, to soft toys to rattles. The family spent John’s first Christmas at their family home in Egerton Gardens, London. Hilda and Jack also get to enjoy some time together, going to see ‘The Bell of New York’ at the theatre on Christmas Eve. John presumably was left with his nanny. Once again she lists her Christmas presents for that year, mentioning a Japanese Jacket, silver Guilt Etui case (the French name for a needlecase), a bicycle stand and a silver backed nail polisher.
Christmas 1900 was again spent in London, with Hilda and her husband Jack yet again enjoying an evening out on Christmas Eve, this time visiting friends. Boxing day however was spent in Norfolk, when they visited Hilda’s brother, Frederick at Rougham Hall, (where he had inherited the family home). Their time there included enjoying the servants ball and more hunting.
A final family Christmas
By the final volume we see Hilda enjoying Christmas with a grown up John. Hilda and John spend Christmas 1916 together, before he rejoins his regiment in February 1917. By 4 November 1917 he goes back to fight in France, helping the allied forces during the First World War. We know he is still in France by Easter 1918, when Hilda includes a sketch drawn by John himself of his life in the trenches (Hilda is not the the only one with an interest in art!). It is not long after this sketch was drawn that John returns home in April 1918 having been wounded. With her husband Jack returning from his posting later on in the year all three spend Christmas 1918 together. This is to be their last as a family, as John died whilst fighting for the Russian Relief Force in August 1919.
Over her married life Hilda experienced many different Christmases, from hot climates, to those we see as a more traditional Victorian Christmas- sitting by the fire while the weather is cold and frosty outside. This year many of us won’t be able to spend Christmas with our families enjoying our usual traditions, so it may be a small comfort to remember that Christmas can be celebrated in lots of different ways.
Written by Victoria Draper