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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 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.


Savannah Chase said...

Prince Albert introduced the trees

Nicole Zoltack said...

Prince Albert

Diana Coyle said...


They were introduced into England in 1841 when Queen Victoria was on the throne. Her husband Prince Albert decorated the first Christmas tree.

What an interesting topic on your blog today! It was very informative.

Warm regards,

Anonymous said...

In England, royalty helped to popularize the notion of a Christmas tree by decorating the first at Windsor Castle in 1841. Prince Albert, husband and Consort of Queen Victoria, adorned this first English Christmas tree with candles, candies, fruits and gingerbread. Already a popular tradition in Germany...the country of Albert's birth...the Prince Consort suggested the idea as a reminder of his homeland. Ever ready to comply with her beloved husband's desires, Queen Victoria readily agreed. Although generally adverse to anything German in origin, the public held their Queen in such high regard that they had soon adopted the custom for themselves.

Kristen Howe said...

Prince Albert/Queen Victoria

kerribookwriter said...

Queen Victoria's husband Prince Albert!

Linore Rose Burkard said...

Wow, I loved your post, I have a whole ebook about Christmas during the Regency that I wrote out of love for the whole Christmas thing, plus the Regency. But guess what? Prince Albert--contrary to popular opinion, and much of what you'll read--was NOT the first royal to introduce the Christmas tree to England. Queen Charlotte, the wife of George III, actually had the first tall Christmas tree at Windsor Castle in the year 1800 or 1801 (I have to check my book!).
Either way, it was decades earlier than Prince Albert's. The difference was that by the time Albert did his tree, there was a much larger middle class, a picture of the tree was run in the paper, and so the idea spread and took root. I go into a lot more detail about this in my ebook, (Regency House Christmas: The Definitive Guide to a Remarkably Regency Yuletide!) but I do love to tell that little snippet of mostly forgotten history!
Thanks! Christmas lovers, visit my blog at:
Click here

Unknown said...

Queen victoria's husband Prince albert!


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