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.

The tree should also have a few firm woody branches, which will support the candles and toys, rather than much greenery, which leaves no room for trying them on. In fact, it is a great help in dressing a tree if masses of the spines are cut away here and there before commencing.

Never lose sight of the fact that the tiny candlesticks must stand perfectly firm and erect, for the lighting is the crowning point of the display, and its success shows the skill of the hand which dresses the tree. Anyone can attach toys and crackers to green branches, but it requires an experienced hand to balance the little clip candlesticks, and by the weight of a tin trumpet at the extreme end of the branch, or of an orange firmly fastened at the base, to steady the little lights, so that there be no danger of an accident.

As a rule, the topmost branch is ornamented by a fairy, whose silver wand is supposed to play an important part in the enchantment of the toy-bearing tree. Her white net veil should flow far behind her, her wand be twisted round with lead paper, with a touch of gum here and there. In fastening the fairy to the tree, it will sometimes be found necessary, if the topmost branch is not very strong, to fasten a ten-inch length of stick along the spine of the fairy and down the branch. This prevents the dolly from wobbling or bending forward in the aggravating manner sometimes assumed.

This method can also be applied to Father Christmas himself, who may supplant the fairy in the place of honour. A robin is sometimes put upon the topmost branch, and a very good effect is obtained if a nosegay of flags crowns the tree.

A Snow Covered Tree

A very pretty effect is gained, and fewer toys and ornaments are necessary, if a snow-covered tree is dressed. Only white cotton wool is required, and some coarsely powdered Epsom salts, or glass powder sold for the purpose.

Take small portions of the white wadding, fluff it out in the fingers so that it looks light and feathery, and lay along the top of each branch and spine, where the snow would have rested had it fallen on the tree. Then take a tiny piece of the wool the size of a pea, tie it up with a piece of black cotton, fluff it out till it looks like a snow flake; tie on another flake an inch from the first; repeat this until an 18-inch length is made. Make numbers of these strings of varying lengths, and attach them to the branches. Do not forget that the more cotton wool used, the more care must be taken in fixing the tiny tapers, for the cotton is extremely inflammable.[1]

References:

  • [1] Hampshire Telegraph, “The Christmas Tree,” December 21, 1895, p. 10.

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