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The First Christmas Tree

If you have opted in for our browser push notifications, and you would like to opt-out, please refer to the following instructions depending on your device and browser. In other parts of Germany box trees or yews were brought indoors at Christmas instead of firs. And in the duchy of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, where Queen Charlotte grew up, it was the custom to deck out a single yew branch.

Under this bough the children lay out the presents they mean for their parents, still concealing in their pockets what they intend for each other. When young Charlotte left Mecklenburg-Strelitz in , and came over to England to marry King George, she brought with her many of the customs that she had practised as a child, including the setting up of a yew branch in the house at Christmas.

But at the English Court the Queen transformed the essentially private yew-branch ritual of her homeland into a more public celebration that could be enjoyed by her family, their friends and all the members of the Royal Household.

Pre-Lit Christmas Trees

Queen Charlotte placed her yew bough not in some poky little parlour, but in one of the largest rooms at Kew Palace or Windsor Castle. Assisted by her ladies-in-waiting, she herself dressed the bough. And when all the wax tapers had been lit, the whole Court gathered round and sang carols. The festivity ended with a distribution of gifts from the branch, which included such items as clothes, jewels, plate, toys and sweets.

These royal yew boughs caused quite a stir among the nobility, who had never seen anything like them before.

But it was nothing to the sensation created in , when the first real English Christmas tree appeared at court. That year Queen Charlotte planned to hold a large Christmas party for the children of all the principal families in Windsor. Such a tree, she considered, would make an enchanting spectacle for the little ones to gaze upon.

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It certainly did. When the children arrived at the house on the evening of Christmas Day and beheld that magical tree, all aglitter with tinsel and glass, they believed themselves transported straight to fairyland and their happiness knew no bounds.

As in Germany, any handy evergreen tree might be uprooted for the purpose; yews, box trees, pines or firs. But they were invariably candle-lit, adorned with trinkets and surrounded by piles of presents. By the time Queen Charlotte died in , the Christmas-tree tradition was firmly established in society, and it continued to flourish throughout the s and 30s.