Christmas The Royal Way

When you look at Christmas traditions in Britain, they look quite German. The reason lies with the Royal family which excelled at importing German Princesses and with them all kinds of traditions to England. While the Christmas tree and its decoration is a German import, there are other foreigners to be named, too. Pantomime, turkey, and Santa Claus are among them.

Queen Elizabeth II

by +Lucas Dié on Books

In his book A Royal Christmas published by Elliott & Thompson, Jeremy Archer traces the influence the British Royal family had on the way Christmas is celebrated in the United Kingdom. American readers will find the book fascinating, too, as the they will recognize many 'American' traditions. The book contains no big revelations, but it collects all the snippets of information found in various books and biographies into a coherent Royal narrative.

King George III as Christkindl

It is customary to credit Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha with introducing German Christmas traditions to England on his marriage to Queen Victoria. That is wrong; he should be credited with being the first professional public relations manager for the Royal family. He didn't bring these traditions, he made them public as part of humanizing the face of the monarchy. Crediting Prince Albert with it is in fact just another publicity stunt to bolster the pretense that the British Royal family is British. The family is German, and then how.

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip

German George was Prince Elector of Hanover and Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg before he took over from Queen Anne. He was already married to a German Princess when moving to London. German Princesses were the rule for all his male successors until Victoria took over; that is 120 years of German family life before Prince Albert ever set foot on the island. In fact, Elizabeth the Queen Mother was the first British consort since German George took the throne. What about Edward VII's consort Alexandra of Denmark? She was German, too, the family is called Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg (which is also the name of Prince Philip the Duke of Edinburgh was born with though he changed it to Mountbatten).

Queen Elizabeth II

After that, German Christmas traditions are not all that surprising anymore. Queen Charlotte, wife of King George III, would spend most of December cutting out paper decorations, ordering special confectionery, and picking a yew tree to embellish Windsor Castle.

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert

The young Princess Victoria would find presents under not one but two Christmas trees on Christmas Eve, as is the custom in Germany. What Prince Albert brought to the festivities was lots of fun and family games. Circumstances conspired to make Christmas a painful time for Queen Victoria which dampened the holiday spirit for the family. But contrary to the usual picture of a retiring widow often painted, she didn't turn inwards but started reaching out to her subjects. The men serving in the Boer war received specially designed chocolate to remind them of home while many of their families were invited to Windsor Castle for tea. 

Royal Family at Sandringham

While concentrating on the earlier history, Jeremy Archer spends less time on the 20th century development. He manages nicely to show how the traditions started by the Victorians were refined and adapted by the Royal family. It builds a neat case from German George to the Queen's speech on Christmas Day. And now you know why she has time to do the speech on that day, because gifts are exchanged on Christmas Eve.

Windsor Castle

On the whole, the book is an amusing encyclopedia of Christmas traditions; it might inspire you to research some of your local traditions, too.

Queen Elizabeth II

Further reading
Christmas Trees Through History
The Origins of Santa Claus
Santa Claus Family Album