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The History of Christmas Trees (Part 3)

_Elsa_ Posts: 36,683 Sweet Legend
edited December 2021 in Discussions

The first Christmas Tree in the UK was probably set-up by Queen Charlotte, the German wife of King George III. Queen Charlotte grew up in Mecklenburg-Strelitz and in the 1790s there are records of her having a yew branch in Kew Palace or Windsor Castle. She helped to decorate it herself and it became a popular event for the royal court. In 1800 she had a full yew tree set-up at the Queen’s Lodge in Windsor for a children's party for rich and noble families. Dr John Watkins, who went to the party described the tree like this: "...from the branches of which hung bunches of sweetmeats, almonds and raisins in papers, fruits and toys, most tastefully arranged; the whole illuminated by small wax candles.". And "...after the company had walked round and admired the tree, each child obtained a portion of the sweets it bore, together with a toy, and then all returned home quite delighted.".

Soon having a tree had become popular amongst some rich families. Queen Charlotte died in 1818 and by then, having a Christmas Tree was a tradition among much of the upper classes.

There's no mention of a Christmas Tree in 'A Christmas Carol' by Charles Dickens, which was published in 1843.

They became very popular throughout the country from the mid 1840s, when reports of 'the Royal tree' were printed in newspapers. In 1848, a drawing of "The Queen's Christmas tree at Windsor Castle" was published in the Illustrated London News. It showed Queen Victoria, her German Husband Prince Albert and their young children around a tree which was set-up on a table. The drawing was republished in Godey's Lady's Book, Philadelphia in December 1850 (but they removed the Queen's crown and Prince Albert's moustache to make it look 'American'!).

The publication of the drawing helped Christmas Trees become popular in the UK and USA.

In Victorian times, the tree would have been decorated with candles to represent stars. In many parts of Europe, candles are still used to decorate Christmas trees.

Christmas Tree 'skirts' started as Christmas Tree 'carpets'. They were made from heavy fabric, often decorated and with fancy frills around the edges, and were used either on the floor, or on tables, and went under the trees and their stands - rather than 'around' them. They were used to catch the needles from the trees and also protect the floor or table tops from dripping wax coming from the candles on the trees.

In Germany in the early/mid 1800s it was also 'fashionable' to have a forest scene and/or a nativity scene under trees (especially if the trees were placed on tables) and so these scenes also stood on the Tree carpets.

At this point trees were either normally put in pots (if they still had roots on them) or they were attached to a larger piece of wood or other heavy support (if they'd been cut) and so the scenes help to hide these.

In the 1860s proper metal tree holders, for cut trees, started being made. If you were rich, you could get them in very fancy shapes - and some even had music boxes in them, so they 'plinked' Christmas tunes!

Less expensive tree holders also became available and were made out of cheaper metals (and they also didn't look so good), so the 'carpets' became smaller and were also put 'around' the tree holders and became the Christmas tree skirts that we have today.

Lead and glass decorations started being made in the 1860s and 1870s. Some of the first glass decorations were apples - and that's probably where round, red, baubles on Christmas Trees comes from! Frank Woolworth started selling glass ornaments in his stores in the USA in 1880. (Source)

To be continued ................

Part 1    Part 2    Part 3    Part 4    Part 5



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