The research for this post surprised me a little. It is generally acknowledged that current Christmas traditions largely had their root in the Victorian Era, including the Christmas tree which became popular after a picture of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s Christmas Tree was published on the cover of The Illustrated London News.
It turns out, that “became popular” were the key words there and the more I think about it, the more this makes sense. The German Prince Albert was supposed to have introduced the Christmas tree to England from his native home, however he was not the first German royal consort in England (see this earlier post) and not only that, but King George I had also started out as the Elector of Hanover (a German province). According to The Christmas Archives, it was the German Georges along with German merchants who first introduced Christmas trees to England and some English families apparently did copy the tradition, but it wasn’t as widespread as it would become later. The Christmas Archives attributes this to the fact that the Georgian kings were not terribly popular with their subjects leading those subjects to be disinclined to follow the Royal Family’s example in matters of fashion. Personally, I think that could be part of the reason but I would also like to point out that it was a picture of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s tree that really started making Christmas trees popular. It could have been that picture that showed everyone how charming and beautiful a Christmas tree could really be.
So to bring us back to the pre-Victorian time in which Jane Austen lived, it is possible that she knew people who had Christmas trees and that some of her characters might have had them. Personally, I think that the most likely characters to have a Christmas tree would be the Gardiners, it would be a fun decoration for the Gardiner children while their parents were at Longbourn and since Mr. Gardiner is in trade they could have picked up the idea from a German merchant (or merchants) that he did business with.