Friday, December 5, 2008
The Victorian Christmas Tree
When we think of Christmas during the Victorian Era, most of us picture a Charles Dickens Christmas complete with a goose or turkey and a Christmas tree, but the English haven’t always had Christmas trees. They were introduced into England in 1841 when Queen Victoria was on the throne. Her husband Prince Albert decorated the first Christmas tree. Albert was from Germany, a place where they’d long used Christmas trees. He decorated a tree for Windsor Castle using candles, candies, and paper chains. The custom spread, and before long all of the English had Christmas trees. So did the Americans.
As time passed, people started to use more elaborate decorations on their trees, including gingerbread men, marzipan candies, hard candies, cookies, fruit, cotton-batting Santas, paper fans, tin soldiers, whistles, wind-up toys, pine cones, dried fruits, nuts, berries, and trinkets of all kinds. They also enjoyed hanging cornucopias filled with sweets, fruit, nuts and popcorn on their trees. Small homemade gifts, such as tiny hand-stitched dolls or children's mittens were also popular. Beautiful angels were the tree toppers of choice, and some families set up a Nativity scene under the tree using moss for grass and mirrors for ponds.
Eventually, people started to use German store bought ornaments which first appeared during the 1860’s. Glass icicles came first followed by hand blown glass globes called kugels. People also liked Dresdens, embossed silver and gold cardboard ornaments in many shapes.
Decorating a Victorian tree today would be pretty simple without investing a great deal of money. Here are a few things I’d do.
1.String popcorn and cranberries to make a garland. The kids should have a great time helping.
2.Shape small paper doilies into cornucopias. Fill with candies of your choice.
3.Recycle old Christmas cards. Cut out shapes you like and attach them to the tree with ribbons to make mock Dresdens.
4.Make or buy small cookies to hang on the tree. You can decorate them with glitter if you like. Hairspray works great as a preservative.
5.Fill small mesh bags with colorful candy and tie them with ribbon.
6.Spray nuts in the shell with gold paint and glue a slender cord to them so they'll hang on the tree.
7.I don’t recommend lighting the candles if you use real ones, but you can buy strings of electric lights in the shape of candles. That sounds a lot safer to me.
8.Don’t forget to fill the tree with small toys. Personally, I’d add some cherubs, another Victorian favorite.
9.Decorative tassels would look beautiful on your tree.
10.Buy some pretty ribbon-Victorians preferred velvet-and shape it into pretty bows or swirls.
11.Fold wrapping paper in the shape of fans and put them on the tree. We used to love making fans when we were kids.
If any of you decide to do a Victorian tree, email me a picture at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll post it on the blog for others to see.
Oh, and the picture that accompanies this post is from an 1841 engraving showing Victoria and Albert and their children.