19th Century Nitty-Gritty: 19th-Century Rules for Achieving Happiness this Holiday Season

By Melissa Rayner

These days it’s a difficult feat to so much as step out of your home without being hit by the ubiquity of the holiday season. Lights, decorations, crowded shopping centers, and–if you’re one of the lucky ones–heaps and heaps of snow.

Sure, Christmas is heavily commercialized these days, but don’t we still love it all the same? Whenever I find myself stuck in a mob of angry shoppers, I take a deep breath and do my best to remind myself of the many things I love about this time of year. And where’s the easiest place to find a heaping stocking full of warm fuzzies?

HINT:  With this series, the answer is always enthusiastic, and it’s always “The 19th century!”

Why, it’s the 19th century, of course! And after all the recent Black Friday hullabaloo, I think we need our favorite century more than ever. Let’s go there now…

Our first lesson comes from a manuscript called Christmas Stories (available via Nineteenth Century Collections Online), and that is to savor your traditions, no matter how bizarre.

These days we do an awful lot of singing about yuletide greetings, but how many of us actually toss a yule log into the fire? This needn’t be your tradition. Traditions are personal, and they’re supposed to mean something. For instance, the same author who speaks fondly of yule logs below spends the next hundred pages of his manuscript discussing falconry in the context of “Christmas Stories.”

yule log

Celebrate your traditions, and be proud. Because, really, the key to unlocking happiness during the holidays is maintaining a positive attitude. Just like any other time of year, your attitude makes your situation.

That’s why I love this article, Christmas Day (available via 19th Century UK Periodicals), which is one small newspaper’s attempt to make the season bright through the magic of poetry–and the reminder that, sometimes, alcohol helps move the festivities along.

christmas poem

I know what you’re thinking, and I agree. Sometimes it’s far too difficult to put on a merry demeanor when you’re surrounded by a sea of humbugs (yes, Black Friday was traumatic for me this year). That’s why the next tip is so important:

Your setting affects your attitude too, so go somewhere you can truly get into the spirit of the holidays.

This could be safely tucked away in your home, out volunteering for the community, or in the fellowship of your congregation as The Infant Preacher (obtained through Nineteenth Century Collections Online) so readily suggests.

the infant preacher

Still not feeling the joy of the season? Maybe the responsibilities that accompany your festivities are getting you down. Try to remember making gingerbread cookies in your grandmother’s kitchen. Think back to the sheer joy you felt when you spied a fancily wrapped present the exact size and shape of that special toy you had been craving for months! Do you recall the most famous reindeer of all?

Childhood is inexorably linked with joy. It’s a time of purity, innocence, and extreme optimism. Wouldn’t it be nice to enjoy the holidays now every bit as much as you did then? Well, you totally can! Just look at these cute children from Christmas Morning (available, once again, Nineteenth Century Collections Online), and get in the spirit!

christmas morning

Remember, everything you need to know in order to live the happiest possible life, you’ve already learned as a child. In case you need a refresher course, check out this list of lessons from Elementary Moral Lessons, an informative and enjoyable guide to living life right via the 19th century.


Elementary Moral Lessons




Melissa for Caricature (2)About the Author

Melissa is obsessed with books, birds, and bonbons. She is a new mom and holds an MA in Applied Sociology. She also writes fiction and skips about the interweb as Emlyn Chand.




Leave a Comment