A Christmas Like This

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The Independent Online
IN 1848 the 'Illustrated London News' published this article, titled 'The Christmas Tree at Windsor'. It is one of the key texts responsible for the celebration of Christmas in today's form - and for the subsequent untimely demise of uncounted forest-fulls of well shaped spruce trees.

'The Christmas Tree represented in the engraving is that which is annually prepared by Her Majesty's command for the Royal children. Similar trees are arranged in other apartments for Her Majesty, His Royal Highness Prince Albert, Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Kent, and the Royal household. The tree employed for this festive purpose is a young fir about eight feet high, and has six tiers of branches. On each tier, or branch, are arrranged a dozen wax tapers. Pendent from the branches are elegant trays, baskets, bonbonnieres, and other receptacles for sweetmeats, of the most varied and expensive kind; and of all forms, colours, and degrees of beauty. Fancy cakes, gilt gingerbread and eggs filled with sweetmeats, are also suspended by variously-coloured ribbons from the branches. The tree, which stands upon a table covered with white damask, is supported at the root by piles of sweets of a larger kind, and by toys and dolls of all descriptions, suited to the youthful fancy, and to the several ages of the interesting scions of Royalty for whose gratification they are displayed. The name of each recipient is affixed to the doll, bonbon, or other present intended for it, so that no difference of opinion in the choice of the dainties may arise to disturb the equanimity of the illustrious juveniles. On the summit of the tree stands the small figure of an angel, with outstretched wings. Those trees are objects of much interest to all visitors at the Castle, from Christmas Eve until Twelfth Night, when they are finally removed. They are not accessible to the curiosity of the public; but Her Majesty's visitors accompany the Queen to inspect them when they are illuminated. The trees are constructed and arranged by Mr Mawditt, the Queen's confectioner.'

24 December 1904 A C Benson, staying at Claremont with the Duchess of Albany, Queen Victoria's daughter-in-law, writes in his journal: 'One of those curious little scenes occurred that shows the odd fondness that Royalty have for 'ragging' other people and laughing at their discomfiture, when they are sure they will never be made to look foolish themselves. (Compare the King of Portugal cramming handfuls of snow down the necks of his staff at Windsor and hurling huge snowballs at them; they in return making up snowballs the size of marbles and throwing them gingerly back, taking care to miss.) Someone had put mistletoe up under the chandelier. The Prince of Teck (who is always ragging Lady Collins) dragged her beneath, and Dr Royle kissed her] Very vulgar, very harmless; but stupid too and out of date. The Royalties screamed with laughter. But if Mr Wightwick and I had dragged the Duchess underneath and embraced her, how would she have liked it? It would have been a 'liberty'. Well, why is it not a liberty with Lady Collins? Because of the damned feeling that makes horseplay from a Royalty into a piece of gracious condescension. That is why I could not bear to live among them.'

24 December 1954 Noel Coward writes in his diary: 'Oh how nice it would be, just for today and tomorrow, to be a little boy of five instead of an ageing playwright of fifty-five and look forward to all the high jinks with passionate excitement and to be given a clockwork train with a full set of rails and a tunnel. However, it is of no use repining. As things are, drink will probably take the place of parlour games and we shall all pull crackers and probably enjoy ourselves enough to warrant at least some of the god-damned fuss. The news from home is mainly concerned with disaster, floods and gales and houses collapsing. I am very lucky to be here (Jamaica) in the warmth and so I will crush down the embittered nausea which the festive season arouses in me and plunge into the gaiety with an adolescent whoop.'

(Photograph omitted)