Saturday, December 7, 2013

Victorian Christmas Tree

This past week I really started to get into the holiday swing of things. Last Saturday I decorated the tree and at work we decorated the office. We also had the staff Christmas party, and my step kids had their school holiday concert. It really feels like the holidays are here. Also the 15cm of snow and -30 temps mean we are full in the season now. :)
When I was decorating the tree I was thinking about Christmas trees in Victorian times and how different they are then today.

The tradition of the Christmas tree is German, and did not become popular in Britain or North America until the 1840s, when Queen Victoria started doing it (her husband Prince Albert was German). Since then though it has become a Christmas staple in most parts of the world where this holiday is celebrated.
So how do you go about giving your own tree a Victorian flair?

The Tree

While these days we tend to opt for big full and bushy, the Victorians liked their trees slender and with branches spaced apart for easy hanging of ornaments and garland. Also it was probably a little safer with candles to have the branches further apart. They also at times went for a smaller tree that could be placed on a table. Real tress are an obvious choice, but there were fake ones made in Germany from feathers. The feathers were painted then secured to wire branches to give the illusion of a real tree.

Tree Skirts

A skirt of fabric would be placed around the tree to hide the stand and also to catch any falling needles. You can purchase tree skirts in stores or online, or save yourself the expense and use a large peice of fabric you might like.

Traditionally Christmas lights were candles. Obviously this is a fire hazard, so going for either fake candles or fake tea lights can add a similar look without the safety hazard. Even a warm white set of lights can still have a nice effect.

Tinsel garland came later. Most Victorians made their own garlands, out of either paper chains, stringing popcorn or cranberries, or paper dolls like the ones above. You can purchase replicas, or make authentic ones yourself.


Most ornaments were hand made. They would cut pictures out and glue ribbon and lace to them, or paint nuts and pine cones gold and tie them with ribbon. Small toys could be used as ornaments too. The colour scheme used was light pinks, white, burgundy and silver and gold. Red and green did not come along until later. Glass ornaments were very expensive and usually it was just the wealthy that had them. People would spend time before Christmas making the ornaments as the tree was not actually put up until Christmas Eve, and would be left up until February 01.

Tree Toppers and Other Odd Ornaments

These were usually an angel or a fairy made from a doll. They would make a dress for them and angel or fairy wings. You can make your own or purchase one of the many varieties of Victorian replica angels on the market.

Another traditional Victorian ornament is the peppermint pig. Pigs were seen as a symbol of good luck, and the peppermint pig would be taken down and smashed at Christmas dinner and everyone would get a peice for good luck for the coming year.

The pickle ornament is one that seems to be a German custom. The pickle is placed on the tee Christmas Eve night, and the first to find it on Christmas morning gets a special gift! You can purchase these online or in specialty stores, or just put a pickle on the tree. :)


Of course no tree would be complete without the presents. Small presents were put into boxes and tied with ribbons to the tree. For larger gifts, they would tie a different coloured ribbon to the tree for each child. One end was tied to the tree and the other to the presents hidden in another part of the house. The child would have to follow the ribbon to find their gifts!
This could be a fun element to add to Christmas morning.

Above is a picture of my tree which is not very Victorian. It's plastic, most of the ornaments are bought, and the tree topper is Rudolph. But I do love the idea of a Victorian tree.
Does your tree have any Victorian elements?
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  1. Hello! What a lovely post. Some traditions I had never heard of before, like the piglet and the pickle, that adds a nice doze of humour to it :). My tree have some victorian ornaments, some, I have made myself but I have one single reindeer in white glass that is very old and very treasured for me. I collect old christmas ornaments, mostly glass bulbs. My theme for the tree this year will be Victorian gothic :)

  2. Thank you for this! I had awesome new ideas for this years Yule <3