On a Christmas Tree

Al and Vicky loved Christmas. The kids, the presents, the traditions. Back in the 1840s, when the couple’s family was starting, they embraced the German tradition of putting up a tree as part of the celebration of the holiday time. That seems innocuous enough, but the pair lived in Britain, and German traditions weren’t looked on kindly at that time. People around them started to talk. Some even began to question their loyalty to the country.

Why did the Germans have this tradition? History is murky on this point. You’ll hear many stories on as to why. One obvious reason is that the evergreen tree represented eternal life–a green tree in winter when all other trees had no green. Another theory points to German’s pre-Christian past and the erection of a tree to honor the pagan gods of early Germanic tribes. There are several other hypotheses. In the end, we have the tradition from Germany–and that includes the song, “Oh, Christmas Tree,” which, as you know is “O, Tannenbaum” in German.

Putting up a tree in Britain actually began under the reign of King George III. George and his wife were both German. They first put up a tree in the late 1790s for their family. As you can imagine, when a monarch adopts a tradition from a rival nation, the public would understandably react negatively. George was already under suspicion for being pro-German. One of the nicknames detractors called him was, after all, German George.

So, over 50 years later, this British couple decided to do the same thing King George had done before. They set up a tree on a table, and they put gifts on and under it. Candles lit the tree. The children loved the tree, and that was enough for Al and Vicky to feel good about their choice to put up the tree despite what people around them were saying.

What they didn’t know was that so many people, rather than seeing their embrace of the German practice as being anti-British and anti-patriotic, saw it instead as being charming and something that celebrated family and love. It was the Romantic Period in Britain, after all, and such middle-class sentiments had developed in the period between that time and the years of the Georgian Era.

In fact, what Al and Vicky did sparked a nation-wide embrace of putting up Christmas trees. Within a few years, almost every family was putting up a tree at Christmas. Eventually, the economy allowed evergreens from Scandinavian nations to be imported to Britain for mass consumption by an eager public.

It didn’t matter that Al himself was German. It didn’t matter that the couple were held to a much higher standard than most British couples were. It didn’t matter that the tradition had not been practiced widely in Britian.

All we remember about this situation is that Al and Vicky–Prince Albert and Queen Victoria–caused us all to have a tree this Christmas.