On An Old Man’s Conversations

George really was a man who enjoyed simple things, but he was no simpleton, he. Some of his friends called him “Farmer George” because he liked to dabble in agriculture (even though he lived in the city, mostly) and because of his liking for things like food, family, and laughter. All in all, a good man who married a good woman and had a bunch of kids.

15 to be exact–9 of them sons. The last two boys were born to George when he was an older man. It was these last two sons that George talked to more than the other children that he and his wife had. You see, George had some health issues as he aged as many of us do. He became bedridden, and the younger children around him were all he saw as the older ones were grown and gone by that time. So, George amused himself by talking to the two younger boys, Freddie, the 9th son, and Eight–yes, George named his 8th son Eight–for hours on end.

The boys never complained about their father’s long talks with them. Oh, he would ask them questions often, and he would listen intently to their answers, but most of the time in his bed-ridden state, George would simply talk…and talk…and talk. And while young boys being that patient with an elderly father seems unusual, you’ll see why the never grew bored with or tired of their father’s attention.

And it’s not that George ignored the rest of his family. Unusually for his day, George doted on almost all his children. The oldest and namesake, well, he was different than his dad. George, Jr., wasn’t fond of the simple things like his dad was. Those two men never really “bonded” as is the phrase today, but what inheritance the older George left when he died went almost all to George, Jr. No, the older George would carry his younger children around on his shoulders, he’d toss them in the air, he’d play games and always–always–remember their birthdays and special events in their lives.

So, for the years preceding his death in 1820, Old Farmer George talked to his two youngest sons about life, death, God, toys, travel, the stars, and even shared secrets with them that no one else knew.

Sadly, the boys never heard what their father said to them.

That’s because both of them had died several years before. Eight–whose name was actually Octavius–died in 1783 at age 4. And Freddie–Alfred–had died at age 2 in 1782.

You see, in his madness, King George III of Great Britain and Ireland, talked long hours to the precious sons he had loved and lost.

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.