Behind the doors of the Victorian parlor stood the Christmas tree,
an old German custom the Victorians enlarged upon in style and
decoration. This tradition had come to England by way of Queen
Victoria's great-great-grandfather King George I.
When she was Queen, Victoria had a Christmas tree at Windsor Castle.
In 1848, an etching of Victoria, Albert, and their children gathered
around their decorated tree was published in The Illustrated
As a result, Christmas trees became the popular fashion in England
and the central feature of the Victorian family Christmas. German
settlers had brought the custom to America, but when the same
illustration of Victoria and her family appeared in Goody's Lady's
Book in 1850, Christmas trees became even more popular in
America than in England.
What made the Victorian Christmas tree so special was its
elaborate decoration. Decorations included
gingerbread men, hard candies, cookies, fruit,
cotton Santas, paper fans, tin soldiers, whistles,
wind-up toys, and trinkets of all kinds. Paper cornucopias
filled with nuts, candies, and other treats were the
Children helped make tree decorations. They would
string garlands of popcorn or cranberries, or make chains
of paper flowers. Some families set up Nativity scenes under
the tree, using moss for grass and mirrors for lakes.
Late in the century, imported ornaments from Germany began
to replace the homemade ones. First came glass icicles
and hand-blown glass globes. Dresdens, which were
embossed silver and gold cardboard ornaments, took exotic
shapes--moons, butterflies, fish, birds, ships, and even automobiles.
A Victorian family's most prized ornament was the angel on top
of the tree, with wings of spun glass, a crinkled gold skirt,
and a bisque face. Angles or cherubs represented the
Victorian ideal of childlike or womanly innocence.