8. Christmas Trees
Over the Christmas period most people will have a decorated tree in their homes, whether it’s a real one, a fairly realistic fake one, an unabashedly fake tinsel one or a minimalist ultra-modern one. Christmas would hardly be Christmas without a tree as a centrepiece. However this traditional feature has only been a part of British Christmas for less than 200 years.
Prince Albert is usually credited with the introduction of the Christmas tree into Britain but there are records of Queen Charlotte, wife of George III, having a decorated tree as part of the royal family’s celebrations in the late 18th century. Like Prince Albert, Queen Charlotte was German and it was in Germany that the tradition began of decorating a tree at Christmas. However the idea was not popularised in England until the 1840s. When Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s family started to grow, the Prince introduced the idea of a live fir tree being brought into the drawing room, decorated with lights and presents to delight their children – and because it was something that he associated with his own childhood in Germany. Engravings of the royal family at Christmas – with their tree – were widely circulated and the idea of the Christmas tree as part of the English yuletide festivities quickly took root.
Initially the trees were lit with candles and were a serious fire hazard. The candles were lit briefly and quickly extinguished once the tree had been seen in all its glory in the darkened drawing room – and before the candles had a chance to set fire to the tree, the wrapped presents- or even to the clothing of the fascinated children if they got too close. Today trees are illuminated for hours at a time with strings of fairy lights, usually battery operated.