It’s the same every year as Christmas draws near: I have little time to write, even less to blog and without fail, I start to get wound up about Christmas trees.
What is it about these innocent little trees that gets my goat? Well, nothing they’ve done in particular. It’s only that, everywhere I go, people are telling me that Victoria and Albert brought the German tradition to England. And it’s then that the Georgian in me starts to scream.
Victoria and Albert certainly made the Christmas tree popular in England, but they were not the first monarchs to bring it into the royal household. The person who really deserves the credit is, in fact, my beloved Queen Charlotte.
As early as 1800, Charlotte introduced festive trees into her Christmas parties for children at the Upper Lodge in Windsor. The earliest description we have is of a yew tree in a tub, hung with sweet treats and decorated with candles. One observer wrote of wax dolls within the branches, along with skipping ropes for boys and muslin for the girls, but I struggle to believe all of this was actually in the tree – for one thing, wouldn’t the muslin catch light? I think they must have meant it was under the tree, or presented as a gift to the children afterwards. There were no glass baubles or tinsel, but there were strings of almonds, raisins and toys (hopefully not flammable toys!). I would so love to see a recreation of this in the flesh – a tree lit with candles, not electric lights. Please do share if you’ve had that privilege!
Christmas trees were already popular in Germany, where Charlotte hailed from, and were widely believed to have been invented by the Protestant reformer Martin Luther. Apparently, Luther saw starlight shining through the branches of trees and wanted to recreate the effect in his own home. But evidence suggests Christmas trees in Germany go back even further, echoing the symbols of an ancient celtic ceremony. But this isn’t my area of expertise. However they started, Charlotte had grown up with Christmas trees in Germany and made them part of the celebrations with her new family in England.
I have a feeling that one day this might come up on QI (if it hasn’t already!), as so many people believe Victoria and Albert brought the tree to England. And if they were told it was Queen Charlotte, I have a feeling they would reply, “Who was she?” But now you know the truth and can get brownie points from Stephen Fry.
If you have any information about the history of Christmas trees, or examples of even earlier ones in England, I would love to hear from you!