A Victorian Christmas Tree

Since people are starting to put out their Christmas decorations, I thought I’d share a little about the Victorian Christmas tree. Maybe you’ll even want to decorate one.

When we think of Christmas during the Victorian Era, most of us picture a Charles Dickens Christmas complete with a goose or turkey and a Christmas tree, but the English haven’t always had Christmas trees. They were introduced into England in 1841 when Queen Victoria was on the throne. Her husband Prince Albert decorated the first Christmas tree. Albert was from Germany, a place where they’d long used Christmas trees. He decorated a tree for Windsor Castle using candles, candies, and paper chains. The custom spread, and before long all of the English had Christmas trees. So did the Americans.

As time passed, people started to use more elaborate decorations on their trees, including gingerbread men, marzipan candies, hard candies, cookies, fruit, cotton-batting Santas, paper fans, tin soldiers, whistles, wind-up toys, pine cones, dried fruits, nuts, berries, and trinkets of all kinds. They also enjoyed hanging cornucopias filled with sweets, fruit, nuts and popcorn on their trees. Small homemade gifts, such as tiny hand-stitched dolls or children’s mittens were also popular. Beautiful angels were the tree toppers of choice, and some families set up a Nativity scene under the tree using moss for grass and mirrors for ponds.  

Eventually, people started to use German store bought ornaments which first appeared during the 1860’s. Glass icicles came first followed by hand blown glass globes called kugels. People also liked Dresdens, embossed silver and gold cardboard ornaments in many shapes.  

Decorating a Victorian tree today would be pretty simple without investing a great deal of money. Here are a few things I’d do.

1.String popcorn and cranberries to make a garland. The kids should have a great time helping.

2.Shape small paper doilies into cornucopias. Fill with candies of your choice.

3.Recycle old Christmas cards. Cut out shapes you like and attach them to the tree with ribbons to make mock Dresdens.

4.Make or buy small cookies to hang on the tree. You can decorate them with glitter if you like. Hairspray works great as a preservative.

5.Fill small mesh bags with colorful candy and tie them with ribbon.

6.Spray nuts in the shell with gold paint and glue a slender cord to them so they’ll hang on the tree. 

7.I don’t recommend lighting the candles if you use real ones, but I’ve seen strings of electric lights in the shape of candles. That sounds a lot safer to me.

8.Don’t forget to fill the tree with small toys. Personally, I’d add some cherubs, another Victorian favorite.

9.Decorative tassels would look beautiful on your tree.

10.Buy some pretty ribbon-Victorians preferred velvet-and shape it into pretty bows or swirls.

11.Fold wrapping paper in the shape of fans and put them on the tree. We used to love making fans when we were kids.  

If any of you decide to do a Victorian tree, email me a picture at elainecsc@aol.com and I’ll post it on the blog for others to see.  

Oh, and the picture that accompanies this post is from an 1841 engraving showing Victoria and Albert and their children.

Does your Christmas tree this year have a theme?


About Elaine Cantrell

Elaine Cantrell was born and raised in South Carolina. She has a Master’s Degree in Personnel Services from Clemson University and is a member of Alpha Delta Kappa, an international honorary sorority for women educators. She is also a member of Romance Writers of America. Her first novel A New Leaf was the 2003 winner of the Timeless Love Contest and was published in 2004 by Oak Tree Press. When she isn't writing you can find Elaine playing with her dog or maybe collecting more vintage Christmas ornaments
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9 Responses to A Victorian Christmas Tree

  1. I do love Christmas trees!
    My mother made beautiful trees of tiny to huge glass balls starting at the top down to the last branches. She used plastic tinsel and often, cans of spray snow. They were works of art. She had gold-painted nuts, but they were for other decorations.
    I opted to do toy-type decorations and fancy things. I collected different ones over the years. I have Victorian/Christmas card-looking ones, as well.
    I’ve liked the idea of toys and candies on the tree. We tried stringing popcorn as kids; it used to break, and it got eaten!


    • Elaine Cantrell says:

      Your description of the tree your mother made is wonderful. I bet it was beautiful to see in person. In this house it would take a lot of popcorn before we’d get a single popcorn chain done. We’d eat it as we strung it, LOL.


  2. Jeff Salter says:

    My earliest memories of Christmas trees — I mean NICE ones… not the scraggly runts we’d salvage from the woods at the side of the road — was my Grandmother’s tree in Atlanta, in 1954 or 55. The decoration that still sticks out in my mind is a string of colored lights… shaped as candles, in which liquid bubbles. I inherited that strand of lights, though most of the original bulbs are long gone. I’ve been able to get replacement bulbs, but they are cheaply made and tacky looking. Nevertheless, placing that strand on the tree reminds me of my Grandmother’s tree.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Elaine Cantrell says:

      We never had any of those bubble lights at home. I’ve considered buying a modern set just because I think they’re cool. The only reason I haven’t is because I think it would be hard to make them sit up straight on the tree. Oh, and we used to get our trees in my grandma’s pasture. We lived in a small house, but my mom and dad wanted a huge tree so that’s what we always had. I like big ones too, but we only put up a small tree now. The dogs and cat seem to ignore it better if it’s small and out of their path.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I have those lights as well. My parents gave me the ones theirs. I need to find some replacement bulbs for them.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Patricia Kiyono says:

    We always had an artificial tree, but since our kids started hosting the family holidays I got rid of it. I still have the ornaments, though – most were gifts and special ones that the children made. I guess the theme would be “memories of family and friends.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Elaine Cantrell says:

      They are the best kind of ornaments to have. I have many precious keepsakes that I’d never part with. Long ago I made a set of family ornaments. Each ornament was different and had the name of a different family member on it. As the family grew I added ornaments for the daughters in law and grandchildren. I bought a special ornament tree for them. It sits in my dining room in the window.


  4. I am going to do this next year! We already have our tree up this year and Jess and Wyatt spent an afternoon decorating it. It has a few store bought ornaments and many handmade ones. The kids decorated white cups to look like snowman heads, they filled the cups with candy, then hung them on the tree.


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