Prince Albert and Christmas

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 Francis Albert Augustus Charles Emmanuel (1819-61), prince of the Protestant German state Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, was the chosen husband of the young Victoria, newly-crowned Queen of England. After their marriage in 1840 Albert was Victoria’s chief adviser and firm supporter. Though never popular with the English people while he was alive, his importing of German attitudes to Christmas did much to lend royal sanction to the holiday in Victorian England. The middle class was quick to adopt novelties such as the Christmas tree and to celebrate the season as they imagined the royal family did. The London News in 1848 ran an illustration of the royal tree with the following description:

The tree employed for this festive purpose is a young fir about eight feet high, and has six tiers of branches. On each tier, or branch, are arranged a dozen wax tapers. Pendent from the branches are elegant trays, baskets, bonbonières, and other receptacles for sweetmeats, of the most varied and expensive kind; and of all forms, colours, and degrees of beauty. Fancy cakes, gilt gingerbread and eggs filled with sweetmeats, are also suspended by variously­coloured ribbons from the branches. The tree, which stands upon a table covered with white damask, is supported at the root by piles of sweets of a larger kind, and by toys and dolls of all descriptions, suited to the youthful fancy, and to the several ages of the interesting scions of Royalty for whose gratification they are displayed. The name of each recipient is affixed to the doll, bonbon, or other present intended for it, so that no difference of opinion in the choice of dainties may arise to disturb the equanimity of the illustrious juveniles. On the summit of the tree stands the small figure of an angel, with outstretched wings, holding in each hand a wreath.

The magazine noted that Prince Albert and Victoria each had a personal tree which was decorated and hung with presents from the other spouse. In a letter he sent to his father Prince Albert described the effect of the tree on his own family: “This is the dear Christmas Eve, on which I have so often listened with impatience for your step, which was to usher us into the present-room. Today I have to children of my own to give presents to, who, they know not why, are full of happy wonder at the German Christmas-tree and its radiant candles.”

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