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The First English Trees

The Christmas Tree is said to first have came to England with the Georgian Kings – led by George III (1738-1820) – who came from Germany, together with various merchants, soldiers and courtiers who accompanied him from Germany. The earliest record of a Christmas tree in England dates from Christmas Day, 1800 with a yew tree erected by Queen Charlotte, wife of George III, which was a part of a larger Christmas celebration conducted for the children at Queen's House, Windsor. [1]

According to a contemporary writer:

A fir tree, about as high again as any of us, lighted all over with small tapers, several little wax dolls among the branches in different places, and strings of almonds and raisins alternately tied from one to the other, with skipping ropes for the boys, and each bigger girl had muslin for a frock, a muslin handkerchief, and a fan, and a sash, all prettily done up in a handkerchief, and a pretty necklace and earrings besides.

It is said that there was also a "pyramid of toys upon the table."

Dr. John Watkins writes in the biography of Queen Charlotte:

... in the middle of the room stood an immense tub with a yew tree placed in it, from the bunches of which hung bunches of sweetmeats, almonds, and raisins, in pears, fruits and toys, most tastefully arranged, and the whole illuminated by small wax candles. After the company had walked round and admired the tree, each child obtained a portion of the sweets which it bore, together with a toy, and then all returned home quite delighted.

Other German merchants living in England decorated their homes with a Christmas Tree in the 1820s. The British public was not fond of the German Monarchy  [2], so did not copy the fashions at Court, which is why the Christmas Tree did not establish in Britain at that time. A few families did have Christmas trees however, probably more from the influence of their German neighbors than from the Royal Court. The custom was to have several small trees on tables, one for each member of the family, with those persons gifts stacked on the table under the tree.

With the coming of the Industrial Revolution, the celebration of Christmas was diminished, especially in the Home Counties, South Midlands and parts of Wales. After the 1833 Factory Act, only December 25th was a holiday; the rest of the twelve days of Christmas were not.

Footnotes

1. Queen's House was previously known as Buckingham House when purchased in 1761 by King George III for his wife, Queen Charlotte (it was originally a town house that was owned from the beginning of the eighteenth century by the Dukes of Buckingham). Beginning in 1820, it was enlarged to become Buckingham Palace. Queen Victoria was the first sovereign to take up residence in July 1837, just three weeks after her accession. Buckingham Palace is the official London residence of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and serves as both home and office. For more information, see Buckingham Palace and following pages at Royal Insight. Return

2. George III’s insanity certainly did not contribute to widespread English acceptance of Germanic customs; he was referred to as "the mad king." His son, George IV (1762-1830) was widely despised – another unfortunate impediment to the acceptance of Germanic Christmas customs. Return

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