Thursday, December 24, 2009

o christmas tree

Just in time for the worldwide celebration of the Christ child's birth comes this post on that dead tree many people set up in their living rooms and hang lights and pretty colored bulbs from its boughs.

No, I am not going to talk about the tree's history as a pagan icon.  It's much simpler for me to talk about something more relevant to this blog- how the modern Christmas tree came to be, thanks to--

*drumroll*

--the Victorians!

"What are you talking about?" I hear you ask.  "Hasn't this revered symbol of Christmas been around for, like, ever?"

Maybe in Germany, which is where the tradition has been prevalent in Europe longer than anywhere else.  According to Wikipedia, the tree didn't spread much further than the Rhineland until the early 18th century.  The various royal houses in Europe seemed to have picked up on the tradition a century later due to marriages to German royalty.  As this article on Victoriana says:

The Christmas tree was introduced into England in the early 19th century. In 1841 the German Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria, decorated a large Christmas tree at Windsor Castle, reminiscent of his childhood celebrations in Germany (the Christmas tree had been a deep-rooted German tradition since the 18th century). Soon after, it became very fashionable in Victorian England to set up a large tree at Christmas
and decorate it with lighted candles, candies, and fancy cakes hung from the branches by ribbon and by paper chains.
 The Christmas tree had been introduced in America since the 18th century, when German settlers brought the tradition over with them, but it did not gain widespread popularity in that country or in England until the mid-19th century, when a woodcut of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria, and their children around a Christmas tree showed up in several publications such as the Illustrated London News  (England, December 1848) and Godey's Lady's Book (America, 1850).  Godey's changed the image, removing Victoria's crown and Prince Albert's mustache to make it a more "American" scene (pictured below):


image source: Wikipedia

Like celebrities of today, the royal family were trendsetters, and the Christmas tree became "all the rage" of 19th century Christmases, I suppose.  Ornaments were hand-crafted for a while, with many edible goodies such as candies and cookies added (think gingerbread men and candy canes), but then glass balls and the like were eventually imported from places like Germany. 

So Merry Christmas, folks, whatever your religious beliefs are:
image source: Operation Letters to Santa

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