Christmas with the Saxe-Coburg and Gothas
When Queen Victoria’s German-born husband, Prince Albert, arranged for a fir tree to be brought from his homeland and decorated in 1841, it created a minor sensation throughout the English-speaking world. Everyone knew about Queen Victoria’s Christmas tree. A print of the royal family gathered about the Christmas tree at Windsor Castle [above] appeared in the Illustrated London News in 1848, then in Godey’s Lady’s Bookin 1850, and was reprinted again ten years later. The six-foot fir sits on a table, each tier laden with a dozen or more lighted wax tapers. An angel with outstretched arms poses at the top. Gilt gingerbread ornaments and tiny baskets filled with sweets hang by ribbons from the branches. Clustered around the base of the tree are dolls and soldiers and toys.
It was not, however, the first German tree in England, as is commonly thought. Queen Victoria had seen one as a girl in 1832. The little princess wrote excitedly in her diary that her Aunt Sophia had set up two “trees hung with lights and sugar ornaments. All the presents being placed around the tree.” And long before that, in 1789, Queen Charlotte, wife of George III, the last king of America, sent to her native Meckelberg-Strelitz in northern Germany for a Christmas tree. The queen’s physician, Dr. John Watkins, described it as “a charming imported German custom, [with] bunches of sweetmeats, almonds, and raisins in papers, fruits, and toys most tastefully arranged” on its branches. [Source]
During Christmas 1841, after the recent birth of Edward, Prince of Wales, there was great happiness within the palace. A joyful Queen Victoria wrote in her journal, “To think that we have two children now, and one who enjoys the sight [of the Christmas tree] already; it is like a dream.”
In addition, Prince Albert, writing to his father, said: “This is the dear Christmas eve on which I have so often listened with impatience for your step, which was to convey us into the gift-room. Today I have two children of my own to make gifts to, who, they know not why, are full of happy wonder at the German Christmas-tree and its radiant candles.” [Source]
Advent Calendar of Oddments 2012: December 4th