The Best Investment You Can Make… Starting Tomorrow

Sean Brodrick By Sean Brodrick,


You’re probably inundated with lists of the latest gadgets and shiny objects to buy your loves ones this holiday season. This isn’t one of those articles.

For one thing, kids never seem to appreciate the things that magazine writers gush over. It’s almost as if the articles were written by advertisers (bah humbug!). But there are inexpensive “investments” you can make that can be part of the best gifts of all…

Memories and tradition.

Those are two things that stand the test of time. And your loved ones will thank you for many years to come.

Last year, I wrote an article about the gifts of the Magi – gold, frankincense and myrrh. You can still buy those gifts today.

This year, we’re going to talk about gifts and traditions from the place where Christmas started. No, not Bethlehem. I’m talking about Victorian England.

Queen Victoria began the tradition of Christmas as we know it. And I say this as someone who lives in an area where Christmas garb is shorts and flip-flops. Doesn’t matter. What you perceive as Christmas has Victorian roots.

One Victorian invention: Santa Claus. Father Christmas, as he’s known in England, is a midwinter tradition. He was dressed in green as a sign of the return of spring. You see his green coat in older English Christmas cards, and this was the model for the earliest movies.

imageWe got the name “Santa Claus” from the Dutch, where he is Sinterklaas. You can thank Dutch settlers to America for that twist on an old tradition.

A Christmas Carol

We especially owe a debt to a Victorian writer: Charles Dickens. His story A Christmas Carol, published in 1843, encouraged rich Victorians to give to the poor. I once had the pleasure of hearing Shakespearean and Star Trek actor Patrick Stewart read A Christmas Carol. He was brilliant!

Anyway, Christmas got its groove in the Victorian era. This was due to the Industrial Revolution. That created a middle class, folks who could afford to take time off during Christmas. They also could afford to give their kids presents.

Orange You Glad

In the early days, presents were simple. The poorer folks especially stuck to apples, nuts and maybe an orange. In Victorian days, oranges were an extravagance. Stockings were hung at the foot of the bed. Children knew that if they were good, they could wake up to find those stockings filled with fruit – and a bright, shiny new penny at the toe.

This tradition continued into my childhood, and it’s one I’ve carried on with my kids. To this day, there’s nothing like the smell of orange peel on Christmas morning to bring back memories.

Victorian folks also gave their kids handmade toys. You can still find plenty of those on Etsy. Especially for younger kids, handmade toys can generate more love and build longer-lasting memories than Nintendo ever will.

A Penny for Your Thoughts

Christmas cards are a tradition that is falling out of favor in an electronic age, and I am railing against this development as curmudgeonly as possible.

Again, Christmas cards are a Victorian invention. The “Penny Post” started in Britain in 1840. A penny stamp bought delivery of a letter or card to anywhere in the country. Sir Henry Cole printed the first Christmas cards (they were postcards then) in 1843. The rest is history.

Try to make time to send at least a dozen Christmas postcards. Make your kids send some to relatives. It strengthens relationships and builds memories.

Christmas crackers are another cheap, fun holiday tradition from the Victorians. This may not be a tradition in your house yet. But it should be.

imageLondon candymaker Tom Smith invented Christmas crackers in 1847. He originally wrapped candy in fancy, colored paper. He added jokes, paper crowns and small toys, and made the crackers go “bang” when pulled apart. That “bang” gives the cracker its name.

The thing about Christmas crackers is they’re absolutely non-electronic. And they’re cheap.

Serve them after Christmas dinner. The cracker will “pop” when it is pulled, and I’ve seen gifts fly across the room. You’ll feel like a kid again. And kids will love it.

Light Up the Night

Finally, Christmas trees are a Victorian tradition. We can thank the Germans for that. Back in the day, Christmas trees were popular in Germany. Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, was from Germany. So the prince popularized them in Britain. They used to “light” the tree using candles stuck on the branches. Can you imagine the fire hazard? But anything for Christmas, right?

Trimming the tree together is a family tradition in my house. Usually someone is in a bad mood when it starts (because, well, teenagers). But everyone is happy when we’re done.

None of the things I’ve listed here are expensive. None of them are fancy new electronics. What they are… are traditions that will give your family memories that will last a lifetime. And that’s the greatest gift of all.

You might say it’s the best investment you can make.

Merry Christmas,