Saturday, December 24, 2016

The shopping is done...

Norman Rockwell (American illustrator, 1894-1978) Tired Salesgirl on Christmas Eve 1947

Gathering supplies on Christmas Eve...

In England - Thomas Kibble Hervey's (1799-1859) Christmas Book with illustrations by Robert Seymour (1798-1836)  


In England - Gathering the Christmas trees


 In England - Gathering the Greens


In England - Thomas Kibble Hervey's (1799-1859) Christmas Book with illustrations by Robert Seymour (1798-1836)  


In England - Christmas Eve in the Morning 1770-1800

Thomas Kibble Hervey's (1799-1859) Christmas Book with illustrations by Robert Seymour (1798-1836)

Elizabeth Adela Stanhope Forbes (Canadian artist, 1859–1912) Christmas Tree

Elizabeth Adela Stanhope Forbes (Canadian artist, 1859–1912)  Christmas Tree

In USA - Christmas Eve 1836 & 1841

This image was originally published  in 1836 as the frontispiece to The Stranger's Gift by Herman Bokum.  It was then republished as Christmas Eve in the 1841 Youth’s Keepsake, A Christmas and New Year’s Gift, published in Boston

The 1st recorded illuminated Christmas tree in North America


The earliest evidence of an illuminated Christmas tree in North America comes from the diary of Friederike von Riedesel, the wife of Major-General Friedrich Adolphus von Riedesel, Baron of Lauterbach, who was born in Lauterbach, Hessen, in 1738.  In 1776, he landed in Quebec with his German troops whose services the British had bought from their German prince to help them put down the American Revolution.

A year later, in 1777, his wife Friederike, accompanied by 2 young children & pregnant with another, sailed across the stormy Atlantic to be with her husband in the New World. She wrote many letters & made daily entries into a diary in which she detailed everyday life in North America in the turbulent colonial period. Her diaries are now in possession of the National Archives of Canada in Ottawa.

Friederike’s outgoing personality earned her many friends among the British & German officers, their wives, & servants. She was affectionately known as “Lady Fritz."  In those days officers as well as soldiers’ wives sometimes accompanied their menfolk into battle. When Baron von Riedesel was ordered to New York State in support of the British, she went along too. After the British & their German auxiliaries suffered a degrading defeat at Saratoga, both the Baron & Friederike as well as their children were captured by the Americans. They spent 2 years in the United States as nominal prisoners-of-war.  Since they were treated decently, they voluntarily remained in the new republic for another 2 years. Here, too, Friederike made many new friends.

In September of 1781, at the request of Swiss-born Governor General Haldimand, the von Riedesels returned to Lower Canada (Quebec) where the general was posted to Sorel.  Just before Christmas they moved into their new home on the site of the Maison des Gouverneurs (Governor’s Mansion) which is located at the confluence of the St. Lawrence & Richelieu Rivers.

It was here on Christmas Eve of 1781, that Friederike von Riedesel decorated a Christmas tree according to the German custom. She did it to relieve the homesickness of the German officers & their wives & to surprise the English officers & their spouses who had never seen such a thing.

In Germany on Christmas Eve, families gathered around a candle lit Christmas tree to sing beloved carols & exchange modest gifts. On Christmas Day, they enjoyed a succulent goose dinner & celebrated with an array of special baked goods & drinks. Such was the scene in the Governor’s mansion in Sorel. Christmas Eve 1781, as described by Lady Fritz in her diary.


Frederika Charlotte Louise von Massow, Barroness von Riedese

The Riedesels left for Germany in 1783. The Riedesels had a total of 9 children, of which 6 survived past their 1st year. After a further campaign in the Netherlands from 1788 to 1793, General Riedesel died in 1800. Frederika returned to Berlin & published her journals from the war that same year. Her book became an important account of the Saratoga Campaign. Baroness Riedesel died in March 1808 in Berlin. 

The Orange Tree becomes a US Christmas Tree

This image of a family gathered around a tabletop Christmas  tree is taken from A Christmas Tree for Christ’s Children, a story published in 1859 by the General Protestant Episcopal S. School Union and Church Book Society in New York City.

"It took them a long time to look all over it, and they were not satisfied till they had done so. The Tree was a real growing orange-tree, which Mr. Oldham had had brought in from the conservatory, and had real oranges growing upon it, though only very small ones, except one or two which were riper than the rest; and besides, there were sweetmeats of all kinds, and a great number of beautiful fancy figures, all hung round in the branches; and then there were wax-lights all burning in the tree, and the light from them was reflected from the figures, and the crystals of sugar on the sweetmeats, just like bright diamonds, so that the children, one and all, declared they had never seen any thing half so pretty."

The Christmas Eve "Christmas Tree"


Germany is credited with starting the Christmas tree tradition in the 16C, when devout Christians brought decorated trees into their homes. Some built Christmas pyramids of wood & decorated them with evergreens & candles, if trees were scarce. 


The earliest American image of a Christmas tree by John Lewis Krimmel (German-born American artist,1786-1821) who was painting in Pennsylvania.   A few years after this image was sketched, one of the the earliest known written references to the actual phrase “Christmas tree” occurred in Pennsylvania in 1821, when a father in Lancaster, wrote, that his children had gone to a local mill “for Christmas trees”

The Christmas tree in American literature was mentioned in a story in the 1836 edition of The Token and Atlantic Souvenir, titled "New Year's Day," by Catherine Maria Sedgwick, where she tells the story of a German maid decorating her mistress's tree. 


An engraving of St Nicholas carrying a Christmas tree in a basket, 1850


William Sandys, writing in England in the early 1850s, briefly mentioned that new fashion, the Christmas Tree: In recent times the Christmas tree has been introduced from the continent, and is productive of much amusement to old and young, and much taste can be displayed and expense also incurred in preparing its glittering and attractive fruit. It is delightful to watch the animated expectation and enjoyment of the children as the treasures are displayed and distributed; the parents equally participating in the pleasure, and enjoying the sports of their childhood over again. And where can the weary world-worn man find greater relief from his anxious toil and many cares, and haply his many sorrows, than in contemplating the amusements of artless children, and assisting as far as he is able; for it is not every one has tact for this purpose, and our young friends soon detect this, and discover the right “ Simon Pure.”  William Sandys, Christmas-tide, Its History, Festivities and Carols, With Their Music (London: John Russell Smith, 1852), p. 151. 


Christmas Tree Family, Victorian Christmas, 1858 from Illustrated London News by J. A. Pasquier


Illustration by F.A. Chapman, titled "The Christmas Tree," from the 1866 edition of Christmas Poems and Pictures

1876 Victorian Christmas Tree



The Christmas Tree at the Middlesex Hospital.


A Christmas tree for German soldiers in a temporary hospital in 1871


This image by Winslow Homer, is titled "The Christmas-Tree." It appeared in Harper's Weekly, December 25, 1858. 

Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, & their family from the 1848 Illustrated London News.  In 1847, Prince Albert wrote: "I must now seek in the children an echo of what Ernest (his brother) & I were in the old time, of what we felt & thought; & their delight in the Christmas-trees is not less than ours used to be." He would decorate the trees himself with sweets, wax dolls, strings of almonds & raisins, & candles, which were lit on Christmas Eve for the distribution of presents, relit on Christmas Day, after which the tree was then moved to another room until Twelfth Night (January 6).  The Queen's journal of 1850 describes the scene: 'We all assembled & my beloved Albert first took me to my tree & table, covered by such numberless gifts, really too much, too magnificent."  "The 7 children were taken to their tree, jumping & shouting with joy over their toys & other presents; the Boys could think of nothing but the swords we had given them & Bertie of some of the armour, which however he complained, pinched him!"  Victoria, however, was familiar with the custom, which had been introduced by her grandmother, Queen Charlotte, the wife of George III, in 1800. The decoration and 'lighting up' of the Christmas tree was a central feature of Princess Victoria's childhood Christmases. In her journal for Christmas Eve 1832, the delighted 13-year-old Princess wrote: "After dinner...we then went into the drawing-room near the dining-room...There were two large round tables on which were placed two trees hung with lights and sugar ornaments. All the presents being placed round the trees..." That tree had been erected at Kensington Palace by Queen Adelaide, consort of King William IV.


Victorian Christmas Tree


 Victorian Christmas Tree

Victorian Christmas Tree


Some traditions credit Martin Luther with the 1st Christmas tree. Here, Luther & his Family in Wittenberg at Christmas 1536 in Wheat Sheaf  as imagined in 1853 Philadelphia

In the early part of the 19C, many Americans found Christmas trees an oddity. To the New England Puritans, Christmas was sacred. That stern solemnity continued until the 19C, when the influx of German & Irish immigrants overwhelmed the Puritan legacy.


The Christmas Tree from Harper's Weekly.  January 1, 1870, Harpers Weekly, 5.


John Whetten Ehninger, American, 1827–1889. Harper's, published 1 January 1870.

By the 1890s Christmas ornaments were arriving in the United States from Germany & as Christmas tree popularity was on the rise around the U.S. Generally Europeans used small trees about 4' in height, while Americans eventually came to prefer their Christmas trees to reach from floor to ceiling.


Christmas in Orson Reynolds House ca. 1880, Reynoldston, NY

The early 20C saw Americans decorating their trees mainly with homemade ornaments, while many German-Americans continued to use apples, nuts, & marzipan cookies. Popcorn, sometimes dyed in bright colors, was strung in a garland & interlaced with berries & nuts.

Julian Alden Weir (American artist, 1852-1919)  The Christmas Tree 1890


The first electric lights on a White House family tree were used in 1894 during the presidency of Grover Cleveland.

Morning Madonna

Unknown Master, Italian (active 1520s in Florence). Virgin and Child with Four Saints

In this blog, I try to begin each day with a painting of the Madonna & Child. It centers me; connects me to the past; & encourages me to post some of the religious paintings which were a large part of the core of early Western art.  In the 4C, as the Christian population was rapidly growing & was now supported by the state, Christian art evolved & became grander to suit new, enlarged public spaces & the changing contemporary tastes of elite private clients.