How to Make the Most of a Victorian Christmas Tree

A Christmas tree on a table, painted by Ludwig Blume-Siebert in 1888. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

By the late Victorian Age, Christmas trees had become a big part of celebrating Christmas. One newspaper published an article about how to select a Christmas tree and decorate it. Here is the article almost verbatim:

In selecting the Christmas tree … for a family party, choose one that is not too large. The effect will be much better if a medium-sized tree, say five feet from the pot to the top-most branch be selected, and this tree is placed on a good-sized round table.

The reason of this is, as anyone will soon find who attempts to dress a tree, that very few of the presents can be actually tied to the branches. Anything at all bulky or heavy must be laid underneath, and the branches themselves decorated only with light, small parcels, or better still, with the presents hung on to the tree without paper, with bags and boxes of sweetmeats, with silver and glass balls sold for the purpose, and with the tiny wax tapers which are so important a feature in the dressing of a tree. Continue reading

Christmas Tree Folktales and Legends

Christmas Tree. Free from Clipart Panda.

Many countries have claimed that the Christmas tree originated in their country. Among those are France, the Scandinavian countries (Denmark, Norway and Sweden), and Germany. Accompanying these claims are many legends, and the first of these legends related to the Christmas tree has its roots in the thirteenth century. It comes from a romantic folktale told in France.

“[T]he hero finds a gigantic tree whose branches are covered with burning candles, some standing erect, the others upside down, and on the top the vision of a child, with a halo around his curly head. The knight asked the Pope for an explanation, who declared that the tree undoubtedly represented mankind, the child the Saviour, and the candles, good and bad human beings.”[1]

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Stories of the Christmas Tree in France

Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The Christmas tree in France did not gain popularity until the late 1800s. It probably wouldn’t have been popular at all if it had not been for royalty. It is claimed that in the late 1830s the Duchess Helene of Mecklenburg-Schwerin (wife to the eldest son of Louis Philippe I, Ferdinand Philippe of Orléans who after her marriage became a French Crown Princess) was the first in France to celebrate with a Christmas tree. She did so at the Palace of Tuileries, and despite the Duchess introducing the Christmas tree in Paris, thirty years later it was still difficult to find one. Continue reading

Napoleon’s Rooms at Longwood House

Napoleon's rooms at Longwood
Longwood House. Author’s collection.

After Napoleon’s loss at Waterloo, he was exiled to St. Helena where he resided at Longwood House. Longwood had originally been a farm that belonged to the East India company and then converted into the country residence of the Deputy-Governor. It became the residence of Napoleon from 10 December 1815 until his death on 5 May 1821.

Although inadequate, a new house was not begun until Napoleon had lived on St. Helena for about three years. Building of the new house began in October 1818, but Napoleon would never occupy it. A French atlas maker and author named Comte Las Cases wrote about Napoleon’s accommodations at Longwood House in late 1815. He provided this description: Continue reading

The Tricorne or “Cocked Hat”

French Tricorne
French Tricorne of 18th Century, Courtesy of Metropolitan Museum of Art

The tricorne hat, which was initially called a “cocked hat,” became popular in the 1700s but was falling out of fashion by the 1800s and eventually evolved into the bicorne. The tricorne was actually an evolution of a broad-brim round hat worn by Spanish soldiers in Flanders in the 1600s. When its brim was pledged (bound), it formed a triangular shape. The triangular shape was the shape favored by Spanish soldiers. Thus, when war broke out in 1667 between France and Spain in the Spanish Netherlands, the triangular hat found its way to France. Continue reading

Parisian Gaming Houses in the Early 1800s

French Roulette Wheel in 1800. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Gaming houses were first licensed in Paris in 1775 with the idea that the profits would be applied to aid Parisian hospitals. Soon there were twelve gaming houses, with a couple of illegal ones tolerated. Although gaming houses were primarily a man’s place for fun and relaxation, women were permitted to enjoy themselves as such establishments two days a week.

Three years after gaming houses were licensed, gaming was banned, but gaming still occurred in these houses and in the hotels of ambassadors, where police did not have jurisdiction. When punishment was meted out for gaming, it was always trivial. For that reason, gaming houses continued to exist during the French Revolution, but they were frequently “prosecuted and licenses withheld.”[1]

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11 Interesting Tidbits about the Wax Sculptor Madame Tussaud

Madame Tussaud at age 42. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Madame Tussauds (without an apostrophe) is a popular attraction with sites throughout the world that include not only the United States and Great Britain but also India, Japan, Pakistan, China, and the United Arab Emirates. The originator of this world-wide legacy, was a vivacious, talkative, and determined woman named Marie Tussaud. Besides being feisty, creative, and motivated into her eighties, there are eleven other tidbits about the wax sculptor Madame Tussaud that you may not know:

Tidbit #1. Madame Tussaud was born Anne-Marie Grosholtz (sometimes spelled Gresholtz) in Strasbourg, France, on 1 December, and her baptismal record is dated 7 December 1761. She learned her wax modelling skills from Philippe Mathé Curtius. Curtius was a doctor who began to create miniature anatomically correct flesh-tinted models from wax for anatomical study. Marie’s mother worked as a housekeeper for him and Marie called him uncle (although he may have been her father). He mentored her in the art of wax modelling, and when he died, he left his estate to her. Continue reading