This illustration, showing the royal family gathered round the tree at Windsor Castle, attracted a great deal of attention when it appeared in the Christmas supplement to the Illustrated London News in December 1848. The German custom of bringing a tree into the house and decorating it with candles and gifts was observed enthusiastically by Victoria and Albert. At Windsor they took delight in preparing trees for each other as well as for the children and the royal household, and regularly gave trees to schools and army barracks. The practice had been popular amongst the upper classes for some time, having been introduced by Queen Charlotte in the 18th century, but this article helped spread the fashion to the rest of society.
Although Prince Albert was not personally responsible for bringing the festive tree to Britain, this picture of the royal children enjoying the season with their parents and grandmother was influential in promoting Christmas as a family occasion. By the end of the 1840s it had become the central festival of the Victorian calendar – a time for celebrating and strengthening family ties, for Christian charity, generous hospitality and goodwill to others.
- Article by:
- Judith Flanders
- Popular culture, The middle classes
Judith Flanders describes how many of our own Christmas traditions – from trees and crackers to cards and carols – have their origins in 19th-century industrial and commercial interests.