Christmas tree

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It is generally assumed that this indisputably German custom was introduced to Britain by Queen Victoria's husband, Prince Albert, but this is only partly true. The British royal family had had regular Christmas trees since the days of Princess Charlotte of Mecklenberg Strelitz, who married George III in 1761, and Victoria had been brought up knowing them (see Miles). Other families with German connections had them too. But it was certainly due to active promotion by Victoria and Albert that the fashion for trees spread so remarkably fast, at least among the better-off. From 1845 to 1855 the Illustrated London News featured Christmas trees more and more, including the famous picture of the royal family round its tree at Windsor in 1848, though the accompanying article still labels this ‘a German custom’ (ILN Christmas Supplement (1848), 409–10). By 1854, a Suffolk farmer's wife, Elizabeth Cotton, could simply record in her diary, ‘Had a Christmas tree for the children’. However, there were many working-class families, well into the 20th century, who could not afford one; they improvised, or did without.

Delia Miles, Country Life (3 Dec. 1992), 60–3;Golby and Purdue, 1984;Weightman and Humphries, 1987.

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