The tree has always been one of my favourite parts of Christmas. I enjoy the ritual of choosing one, bringing it home, decorating it with the dear and somewhat shabby tokens that have accompanied us through the years.
It never fails to surprise me, the way that bringing a tree indoors changes the feel not just of the room but of the whole house and signals to our modern consciousness that this tradition actually goes back a very long way, predating Christianity.
Above all, I love coming downstairs in the morning to the resinous smell of the tree. On the basis that the needle-drop ones smell the sweetest, I chose the short-lived type this year and although the smell has indeed been piney and pungent, the poor tree is now announcing that the party is over.
The Christmas tree, famously, was popularised in England by Queen Victoria whose German-born husband Prince Albert loved the tradition. Victoria too had grown up with a tree brought indoors for Christmas and wrote in a her diary as a 13-year-old of a tree ‘hung with lights and sugar ornaments’.
This 1850 magazine illustration is reportedly based on an illustration of Victoria and Albert’s tree.
I have dispensed with making sugar ornaments, in the form of biscuits with melted boiled sweets in their centres, to hang on the tree, now that my ‘children’ are in their 20s. And I’ve never put candles on a tree although a German friend does and I like the idea of it. I did write a tree into The Painted Bridge, in a rather piteous scene in which only the heroine Anna Palmer and a few other patients are still stranded in Lake House when Christmas Day comes.
And on that tree, although the needles have dropped, candles do burn.
Happy New Year.