Many of the Christmas traditions that are observed in Great Britain today stem from the various generations of the country’s monarchy. Of course there are still many pagan traditions observed at this time of year, just as there are a number of Christian rites still observed, but what many people fail to realise is that some of the Christmas traditions that we observe every year are in fact due to the influence of the royal family over the people of the land.
The most important royal family regarding the introduction of Christmas traditions is that of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Although a stalwart of the British monarchy for all intents and purposes hers was a German family, and Christmas in the royal household followed many of the traditions of Germany. It was Queen Charlotte, the German wife of King George III that introduced the concept of the Christmas tree, which was then a yew tree, into Windsor Castle, who saw that the branches were suitably dressed with gifts.
Victoria and Albert
Victoria herself was of course half German on her mother’s side and she married Albert her German cousin. It was through them that the Christmas tree gained popularity after an illustration was printed in the London News which showed the royal household all gathered together around their own tree – after this Christmas trees started appearing in homes all over the country. Even the royal tree was German, being specially shipped from Bavaria to Windsor Castle.
Albert had grown up with snow filled winters and all of the outdoor activities that the snow allowed, he brought this love of the snow with him to London and introduced the family to snowman building, sledging and ice skating. The people of Britain wanted to emulate the royal household as much as possible and soon whatever happened in royal life was happening all over the country.
Within three years of the penny post being established the first Christmas Cards went on sale, with the royal family being the first customers. Again, what was seen as proper and appropriate by the royal family was taken on board by the people of the nation and now millions of cards are mailed each year. One obvious royal invention is of course the Christmas message that is broadcast by the monarch to homes across the kingdom on Christmas Day. The first message was broadcast in 1932 from Sandringham by King George V, the format of the message has changed little in the eighty years since.
Not everything that happened in the royal household caught on though – the German tradition of exchanging gifts on Christmas Eve is one thing that the masses failed to emulate. However this exchange of gifts still continues in the royal household each Christmas Eve.
Ever since Queen Elizabeth I commissioned William Shakespeare to pen Twelfth Night for her Christmas entertainment in 1601 the Royal family has had a continued impact on the Christmas traditions that take place in homes across Great Britain and the Commonwealth.