Vintage image of Santa wearing a suit made of fur
It is a popularly held belief that Prince Albert and Queen Victoria started the custom of having a decorated tree for Christmas, but they didn’t create the custom, they simply helped to popularize it outside Germany. The custom of decorated trees was a popular one in Germany years prior to the famous illustration which showed the royal family gathered about their tree.
In Germany, Christmas Eve is for children the most joyous night in the year, as they then feast their eyes on the magnificence of the Christmas tree, and rejoice in the presents which have been provided for them on its branches by their parents and friends. The tree is arranged by the senior members of the family, in the principal room of the house, and with the arrival of evening the children are assembled in an adjoining apartment. At a given signal, the door of the great room is thrown open, and in rush the juveniles eager and happy. There on a long table in the centre of the room stands the Christmas-tree, every branch glittering with little lighted tapers, while all sorts of gifts and ornaments are suspended from the branches, and possibly also numerous other presents are deposited separately on the table, all properly labeled with the names of the respective recipients. The Christmas-tree seems to be a very ancient custom in Germany, and is probably a remnant of the splendid and fanciful pageants of the middle ages. Within the last forty years and apparently since the marriage of Queen Victoria with Prince Albert, previous to which time it was almost unknown in this country, the custom has been introduced into England with the greatest success, and must be familiar to most of our readers. Though thoroughly an innovation of our old Christmas customs, and partaking, indeed, somewhat of a prosaic character, rather at variance with the beautiful poetry of many of our Christmas usages, he would be a cynic indeed, who could derive no pleasure from contemplating the group of young and happy faces who cluster round the Christmas-tree… – Chambers, Robert. The Book of Days. 1832.
Chambers’ account went on to quote an Englishman who had spent Christmas with a German family and went into great detail about their Christmas traditions including the tree, and the extent to which family members went to in order to make gifts for each other without giving a hint as to their plans. “…these presents were sent by all the parents to some one fellow, who in high-buskins, a white robe, a mask, and an enormous flax-wig, personates Knecht Rupert – i.e. the servant Rupert. On Christmas-night, he goes round to every house, and says that Jesus Christ, his Master, sent him thither. ..”.
In the state of Pennsylvania, in North America, where many of the settlers are of German descent, Christmas Eve is observed with many of the ceremonies practiced in the Fatherland of the Old World. The Christmas-tree branches forth in all its splendor, and before going to sleep, the children hang up their stockings at the foot of the bed, to be filled by a personage bearing the name of “Krish-kinkle”…If however, any one has been naughty, he finds a birch-rod instead of sweetmeats in the stocking. This implement of correction is believed to have been placed there by another personage, called “Pelsnichol” or Nicholas with the fur, in allusion to the dress of skins which he is supposed to wear…