Back in 2012, I wrote about the history of that well-loved icon of a London Christmas – the Trafalgar Square Christmas tree. Recently, while looking for something else entirely (as is always the way!), I came across a couple of vintage pictures of what appears to be the first tree to go up in the Square back in 1947, which I thought I would share with you this Christmas. From two different sources (click on each image for more information), these pictures were taken from different angles and seemingly by different photographers, but they clearly show the same tree and the crowds of Londoners who came to see it.
The arrival of the huge Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square each December is a familiar part of the festive season for many people in the capital, Londoners and visitors alike. Some years back, entirely by accident, I found myself in the Square on the evening the tree was due to be lit. As darkness gathered over the city, carols were sung and speeches made – and, with great ceremony, the switch was flicked, lighting the tree to an admiring chorus of oohs and aahs from those watching.
Tucked away in a row of 18th century almshouses just behind Hoxton Overground station, the Geffrye Museum of the Home is one of London’s real hidden gems. Examining the homes of the urban middle classes over the last four hundred years, the museum is divided up into a number of different ‘living rooms’ which each represent – and are decorated in the style of – a different time period.
Today, when we think of a ‘traditional’ Christmas, it is a Victorian-style celebration we are envisioning. Christmas trees, crackers, pantomimes, cards – all these now-familiar seasonal things were either invented or popularised by the Victorians. There are, however, three people in particular who are now considered mostly responsible for the creation of what is today seen as a very British, very Victorian take on Christmas – although, strangely enough, only one of them was actually a Brit!
The first of this trio was a member of the royal family. The introduction of the Christmas tree to Britain is traditionally thought to be down to Victoria’s German husband, Prince Albert. However, it is more likely that it was George III’s German wife, Queen Charlotte, who brought the first tree to Britain – Albert merely popularised them.
In the early years of their marriage, Victoria encouraged German Christmas customs to make her husband feel more at home in Britain, and approving press coverage meant that it wasn’t long before the Christmas tree became wildly popular with the British people. The middle classes, in particular, were soon copying this royal idea in their own homes, decorating their trees with candles, small toys and gifts, cards, sweets and other goodies (like sugar plums – see below).
Christmas is supposed to be the season of peace and goodwill, but it usually ends up as the season of conspicuous consumption and excess. Just think of all those Christmas lights, and the several forests worth of wrapping paper and cards we each use every year – let alone the number of trees that are chopped down for seasonal decoration and all the food that goes to waste each Christmas. Multiply that by every family in the country – and then the world – and it ends up being not very environmentally friendly at all.
However, it is actually possible to have a great Christmas while still being as green (and as ethical) as possible – and that doesn’t mean being revoltingly worthy about it all, either. It’s all about taking small steps to becoming more environmentally friendly: it all soon builds up. So here are a few simple and practical ideas to make your Christmas a greener celebration without costing the earth, either financially or environmentally…