Victor Hugo’s Christmas parties

As well as being a literary icon Victor Hugo was a vocal humanitarian, who, alongside his

wife Adele, was known for charitable giving. He once said: ‘Victor Hugo’s door in exile is

half-open to rich people, and wide open to the poor.’

Whilst in Guernsey Hugo and Adele hosted weekly dinner parties for the poor children of St

Peter Port, and around Christmas time they would invite large groups of children over for a

hot meal and presents.

An account in The Star of the 21 December 1865 described the parties as an ‘annual

distribution of clothing and toys to the poor children to whom he furnishes a dinner every

week.’ The Star also reported that Hugo hosted forty children at Hauteville House for


The idea was initially proposed by Adele, and she organised many other charitable events

for local children and families in Guernsey. Gift giving and charity were significant parts of

Victorian Christmas celebrations, and Hugo and Adele championed this in the local


According to The National Trust in Guernsey, Victorian era gifts would have included items

like oranges, hair ribbons, buttons, and as mentioned above, clothing and small toys. The

landscape being vastly different from the consumer culture of modern festivities, the

children Hugo was feeding would have been very impoverished. Presents would have been

simple and practical, but welcomed with much excitement by the children.

Also, it is important to note that larger families would have been cramped into very small

living spaces. The children would not have space to call their own or store things, so they

would be given something small that they could keep on their person.

Even so, an event such as this would have been an incredible treat for the local children, and

the gifts they received would have been treasured.

In France, 19th century Christmas traditions were not so dissimilar to Victorian festivities;

however they also had their own distinct cultural traditions. Children would leave their

shoes by the fireplace to be filled with small gifts, and rather than a tree, elaborate nativity

scenes were much more common. It is uncertain whether Hugo introduced any French

Christmas traditions to the children of Guernsey.

Hugo cared deeply about class inequality. He and his wife, Adele, brought compassion and

kindness to their adopted home of Guernsey during the 15 years they spent living on the

island. Their work in the community made an impact, which is why Hugo is still a beloved

local figure to this day.