Royal twist to Christmas traditions of trees, cards and Queen’s speech
- Credit: Matthew Usher
One or two of the traditions we now take for granted have Royal origins.
As she chooses the Christmas tree which will be the centrepiece of celebrations at Sandringham, the Queen will continue a tradition popularised in this country by the Royal Family almost two centuries ago.
In the 1840s, Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's husband, brought a decorated Christmas tree from his native Germany, where fir trees had been adorned at Christmas time since the 16th Century.
A generation earlier, in December 1800, Queen Charlotte, the German wife of George III, had set up the first known English tree at Queen's Lodge, Windsor, but the idea did not truly catch on until Prince Albert's intervention, when periodicals began to depict the Royal Christmas trees.
While technology and materials have changed from Victorian times, the basic tree has stayed the same, decorated with lights and baubles with presents arranged beneath.
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Thanks to their German roots, present day royals 'do different' with their presents, with gifts opened after high tea at Sandringham on Christmas Eve instead of on Christmas Day.
The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh send upwards of 800 Christmas cards each year. The royal couple start writing them months beforehand, signing with different degrees of formality depending who they are addressed to.
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Politicians and heads of state receive cards signed Elizabeth R, friends Elizabeth and Philip and cousins her childhood nickname of Lilibet.
Just as their endorsement helped popularise the Christmas tree, the Royal Family were some of the first to send cards en masse.
In Christmas, 1914, King George V and Queen Mary sent a card to every serviceman in the trenches. Their daughter, Princess Mary, sent a tin of tobacco and cigarettes to those serving abroad.
In the early 1850s, Queen Victoria became the first royal to embrace the new custom of sending printed 'holiday cards', rather than writing individual letters to family and friends at Christmas.
As photography arrived, they usually carried a picture of the family, a tradition which has continued until this day.
The Queen's cards join an estimated 900 million others in the post. As a nation, the Greetings Card Association estimates we now spend more on cards than we do on tea.
On Christmas Day, millions in Britain and around the world will tune in to the Queen's speech. As well as TV and the BBC World Service, the sovereign's Christmas address will also be uploaded to her YouTube channel and shared on social media.
When her grandfather, King George V, sat down at Sandringham for the monarch's first-ever Christmas message, in 1932, he addressed the Commonwealth via newly-arrived wireless telegraphy – the radio.
The King read a speech composed by the author Rudyard Kipling. He began: 'I speak now from my home and my heart to you all. To men and women so cut off by the snows, the desert, or the sea, that only voices out of the air can reach them.'
A makeshift studio had been installed at Sandringham, connected by telephone line to the BBC World Service's transmitters in Northamptonshire. The speech was heard as far away as Australia, India, Canada and Kenya.
Continued by King George VI after his accession to the throne, the Queen made her first speech after the death of her father in 1952.
Sitting in the same chair, at the same desk at Sandringham from which the King had made his final Christmas address, which he had pre-recorded the previous year as his health deteriorated, she said: 'Each Christmas, at this time, my beloved father broadcast a message to his people in all parts of the world.
'As he used to do, I am speaking to you from my own home, where I am spending Christmas with my family.'
For millions, her Christmas Speech still signals a time to reflect on the year that's almost passed. The Royal Family gather around a TV set to watch it after lunch, after they have returned from the Christmas Day service at Sandringham Church.
The Queen's Speech is at 3pm on BBC1 and ITV on Christmas Day.