Christmas Countdown Day 18
Oh, Christmas tree!
One thing that Charles Dickens does not mention at all in his book A Christmas Carol, but is now a big part of our Christmas celebration, is the Christmas tree. At no point throughout Scrooge's journey with the Spirits is there even a trace of a tree. You may remember that A Christmas Carol was first published in 1843, the same year that the first commercial Christmas card was produced (also free of Christmas trees!). In 1850 Dickens published a short Christmas story called A Christmas Tree. Had something happened with in the space of these two stories that had brought the Christmas tree well into the public imagination? Actually, the answer is yes!
Christmas trees were not part of the British Christmas tradition until the mid nineteenth century. That isn't to say that no household in Britain ever had a Christmas tree in the house before the 1840's, perhaps immigrants from northern Europe brought the custom with them when they settled here, but certainly, the custom was not common, and Christmas trees almost completely unheard of in this country.
In 1848 a picture was published in The Illustrated London News of a family gathered around a fir tree, set upon a table. The tree was decorated with small trinkets and lighted by candles. The family celebrating around the tree was no ordinary family; it was Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert, with their children.
Prince Albert had grown up in Germany, where the Christmas tree had been part of his childhood. It seems almost natural that he would bring the custom with him and pass it to his own young family. The Royal Family were greatly admired in Britain, and what was fashionable to the Queen and the Royal Household, soon became the fashion of the nation.
The custom was quickly adopted and soon household across the country were decoration fir trees in their homes.
The Royal Christmas trees were set on tables with fine gifts underneath and around the tree. It has also been recorded that at Windsor Castle Christmas trees, lighted with candles, were hung from the ceiling, in place of chandeliers! Queen Victoria recorded in her diary of 1850 The children were taken to their tree, jumping and shouting with joy over their toys and other presents; the boys could think of nothing but the sword we had given them and Bertie some of the armour...'.
Along with candles, Victorian trees would also be decorated with small baskets and trays of sweets, fruits, fancy cakes and biscuits, small toys and coloured ribbons. As the popularity of the Christmas tree spread, more and more commercial decorations were produced. The presents also got larger, and were soon being set around or under the tree.