Leisure and Pleasure: Holidays, Sports, and Recreation
This chapter merely samples the many ways Victorians spent their free time. Books, magazines, games, crafts, hobbies, and music occupied family evenings at home. Traditional celebrations lingered in the country- side; public entertainments multiplied in town. As working hours grew shorter and new holidays were created, most people had more free time. Museums, clubs, and youth organizations encouraged constructive recreation. Railways brought families to the seashore. Sports were organized, commercialized, and professionalized. The leisure patterns of a mass society took shape.
Pre-industrial workers lived by the rhythms of an agricultural year. Some traditional rural customs vanished during the nineteenth century, but others were transformed: their disruptive pagan elements became more modest. Whereas the older May Day rituals built up to dancing in the fields and a night of sexual liberty, the Victorians "tamed" the holiday and made it into a children's festival, with young girls in white dresses decorating a Maypole in front of the church. Guy Fawkes bonfires (on November 5) and Christmas mumming (in which elaborately disguised men and boys performed plays featuring sword fights or mock battles) also survived, but in less rowdy forms than previously.