Saturday, October 19, 2019

III - The Victorian Christmas Tree

Although the ‘Christmas Tree’ had briefly appeared in England during the reign of Queen Charlotte, it finally became a main Christmas tradition during Queen Victoria’s reign. Just like Queen Charlotte, Victoria’s husband, Albert, was born in Germany and brought with him the tradition of Christmas Tree in the 1840's.

The trees were of medium to modest size for most households and impressive - 20 feet or more, in the homes of the more affluent. Tapers adorned the tree and were lit at night - making it a likely fire hazard.

Most decorations were hand made. Popular items included gilded walnuts and candies. Dried fruits (oranges, cranberries, and popcorn) were strung together to form garlands.  Some trees had small toys placed in the branches. Gingerbread was also hung on the tree as decoration. 

A Victorian tradition were paper cornucopias filled with fruits and nuts, then nestled in the boughs of the trees. Making the decorations and then trimming the tree was a family event .  

The glass ornaments most of us grew up with were actually introduced as early as the 1860's. The first ones were mainly seen in the homes of German immigrants. These were hand crafted in Lauscha (and other areas in Germany), and brought with them as they settled in America. 

Victorian trees were usually topped with an angel made of wax, fabric, and lace. Stars were also popular toppers. 

Beneath the tree, the children would create 'Putz' villages (German for 'putting things together to create a scene’.) Some were as simple as grass and moss with sticks making fences to the more elaborate with paper houses, candy decorated 'yards', and fluffy white 'snow'. In the early 1900's mass produced 'Putz Villages' could be bought. 

Another tradition of the Victorian Christmas was the practice of 'Christmasing'.  Holly and mistletoe were used in copious quantities as decorations for the seasons. Seeing an opportunity, street vendors would scour the yards and hedges of English homes, 'harvesting' as much holly as they could haul off. They would then sell the greenery to the city folk for a nice profit.

Since Mistletoe was harder to get since it grows in the tops of trees, it was seen as an expensive decoration for only those could afford it. The opportunistic vendors did not miss this and were therefore not averse to going to great links to get their hands on this parasite from the trees and orchards. Often they had to deal with dogs, traps, and armed land owners guarding their trees.

Parlor games were very popular during this time, some a bit more odd than others. One such example was the game called 'Snapdragon'. This involved raisins, rum, and fire. (As if a tree in every parlor lit candles wasn't 'playing with fire' enough.) Raisins were put in a bowl of rum, which was then lit afire. The goal of the game being to see how many raisins could be grabbed from the bowl and eaten.

One game was advertised as: "... intensely amusing and perfectly harmless. It trains the eye, cultivates the judgment, strengthens the nerves, and fills every vein with youthful blood. It gives everyone a better control of themselves. It establishes perfect harmony between the eye, the intellect, the muscles, the nerves, and promotes the highest type of physical and mental development."  I doubt this was describing 'Snapdragon'.

For the less adventuress, there was always charades.

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