Christmas collection: What is the history behind what we put at the top of our Christmas trees?

Angel or star? Or something completely creative?

This is the question that will have answers varying from person to person. The most popular choices are either an angel or a star but in recent times more creative ideas have evolved with people having the likes of bows, snowflakes, elves, popular culture symbols or anything personal to them or their family, making a statement at the top of the Christmas tree. No matter what you put at the top of the tree, it is a tradition that has been cherished for decades.

In the UK, the reason why we put something at the top of the Christmas tree is all thanks to Queen Victoria. In 1848, The Illustrated London News published an image of a drawing of Queen Victoria, her husband Prince Albert, and their children decorating the tree with tinsel, silver wire ornaments, candles, small beads, and most importantly, with an angel at the top of the tree.

Queen Victoria and the Royal Family in general were beloved by the British people and so the image became very popular with the angel being placed at the top of the tree becoming very fashionable. It became fashionable not only in the UK but also in America. The drawing was republished in Godey’s Lady’s Book, Philadelphia in December 1850, making the angel as the tree topper very popular in America. The image was tweaked slightly having removed the Queen’s crown and Prince Albert’s moustache to make it look more ‘American’. The angel being placed at the top of the Christmas tree has been the most popular choice ever since.

In the 1800s, glassblowers in Germany were making glass Christmas ornaments and glass angels became the most fashionable option for the Christmas tree topper throughout the world. With the onset of the Industrial Revolution, the production of Christmas ornaments boomed, starting the trend of families choosing from many different styles of tree toppers in stores.

The most popular Christmas tree toppers of course reflect the images from the Christian Nativity Story. The angel represents the many angels in the biblical story of the first Christmas. For example, the angel Gabriel who informs the Virgin Mary that she will be the mother of Jesus, the host of angels and the heavenly host that proclaimed the news of the birth of Jesus to the world on the eve of his birth. Second most popular, the star, symbolises the Star of Bethlehem which led the wise men to Bethlehem, revealing the birth of Jesus.

The tradition of placing the finishing touch atop of the Christmas tree is a tradition that will be passed down for centuries to come. The angel today is still the most popular choice but with the changing of times, creation of new ornaments and traditions, will the angel stay the nations favourite?

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