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High Victorian Trees

The 1880's saw a rise of the Aesthetic Movement. At this time Christmas Trees became a glorious hotchpotch of everything one could cram on; or by complete contrast the aesthetic trees which were delicately balanced trees, with delicate colors, shapes and style. They also grew to floor standing trees. The limited availability of decorations in earlier decades had kept trees by necessity to, usually table trees. Now with decorations as well as crafts more popular than ever, there was no excuse. Still a status symbol, the larger the tree - the more affluent the family which sported it.

The High Victorian of the 1890's was a child's joy to behold! As tall as the room, and crammed with glitter and tinsel and toys galore. Even the 'middle classes' managed to over-decorate their trees. It was a case of 'anything goes'. Everything that could possibly go on a tree went onto it.

By 1900 themed trees were popular. A color theme set in ribbons or balls, a topical idea such as an Oriental Tree, or an Egyptian Tree. They were to be the last of the great Christmas Trees for some time. With the death of Victoria in 1903, the Nation went into mourning and fine trees were not really in evidence. While some families and community groups still had large tinsel strewn trees, many opted for the more convenient table top tree. These were available in a variety of sizes, and the artificial tree, particularly the Goose Feather Tree, became popular.

In the 1930's, there was a revival of Dickensian nostalgia, particularly in Britain. Christmas cards all sported Crinoline ladies with muffs and bonnets popular in the 1840's. Christmas Trees became large, and real again, and were decorated with many bells, balls and tinsels, and with a beautiful golden haired angel at the top. But wartime England put a stop to many of these trees. It was forbidden to cut trees down for decoration, and with so many raids, many people preferred to keep their most precious heirloom Christmas tree decorations carefully stored away in metal boxes. They decorated only a small tabletop tree with homemade decorations, which could be taken down into the shelters for a little Christmas cheer, when the air-raid sirens went.

Postwar Britain saw a revival of the nostalgic again. People needed the security of Christmas, which is so unchanging in a changing world, as one of the symbols to set them back on their feet. Trees were as large as people could afford.

Perhaps the most famous community tree is the one placed every year in Trafalgar Square, London, a gift from the people of Norway in gratitude for the help that Britain gave during World War II.

Britain made a return to Victorian nostalgia in the 1980's, a decade later than in the United States.

The web site A Victorian Christmas has a great vignette concerning the Victorian Tree, which I recommend.

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