How the Royals gave us Christmas trees – and the surprising story behind it

Over the years, the Royal Family have introduced many customs which have gone on to become popular traditions. One of the most famous of these is the Christmas tree which is thought to have first seen in the UK thanks to King George III's wife, Queen Charlotte.

While it did not become the iconic sensation it is today until Queen Victoria's reign, the Royal Family are often credited with making it an accessible trend.

Even though the practice of bringing trees into the house and decorating them with candles and sweets is believed to date back to the 16th century, it was only because of the Royal Family's German links that it became mainstream.

Despite not being updated since King Charles' accession, The Royal Family website explains: "Queen Charlotte, consort of George III, is thought to have introduced the Christmas tree to the Royal Family.

"The later enthusiasm of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert for the custom helped spread the popularity throughout the country. Today, The Queen and Members of her family, will usually put the final touches on their Christmas tree."

When she was young, Charlotte’s family always decorated single yew branches and laid presents for each other underneath. When she married King George III in 1761 this was the custom she brought with her to England.

There’s no definite evidence that Queen Charlotte decorated an entire tree until the Christmas of 1800. It was in preparation for a Christmas party, held for local children at Windsor Castle in that year, that she decorated the yew tree at Queen’s Lodge.

Despite this, only members of the aristocracy replicated what they saw at court as a treat for their children – but the majority of the British public still had no knowledge of the Christmas tree.

When interest grew in the lives of Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and their growing family, the media started to report on the rising popularity of Christmas trees and later published a photograph of the couple with several of their children in Illustrated London News in 1848.

The middle-class soon hurried to copy the example set by their Queen and by the end of the 1850s the Christmas tree was well established as a festive custom.

Christmas was a special time of year for the royal couple and they enthusiastically encouraged the spread of their own Christmas traditions throughout the country. Every year Prince Albert would arrange for trees from the royal estates to be gifted to schools and army barracks.

As for how another German tradition continues to influence the Royal Family's festive season, royal expert Robert Jobson explained to The Express in 2021: “On Christmas Eve when all the clan are together, the Queen's grandchildren and great-grandchildren put the finishing touches to the 20ft Christmas tree in the White Drawing Room.

"Presents will be opened that day at tea time as the royals still keep to the German practice of opening their gifts on Christmas Eve. Gifts are laid out in the Red Drawing Room on a white linen-covered trestle table, with cards marking exactly where the piles of gifts should be put.

"Once everyone has arrived, the royal guests enjoy a traditional Christmas that includes putting the finishing touches on the Christmas tree and the giving of cheap and humorous gifts."

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