Wednesday, June 26, 2013

A Royal Christmas by Jeremy Archer

It's hot, hazy and humid.  Summertime.  So many good books to read ... and to keep cool, sit down in a comfy chair, pour a lemonade, and dive into A Royal Christmas (Elliot & Thompson: £20.00/$32.95), a comprehensive account of British royal Christmases.

Archer is a historian who specializes in Christmas.  He has an appreciation for its traditions and history, and combines it with the British royal family.

The focus of this book is the modern royal family from Queen Victoria to modern day.

Mixing royalty and Christmas provides interesting reading, especially as Archer uses the royals' own words.

Queen Victoria wrote on Christmas Eve, 1841, "arranged Albert's table with Xmas presents, in my former bedroom ... One of the things I value most is an enamel of "Pussy" after Ross, mounted as a brooch...."

It was the Hanoverians who brought many of the Christmas traditions that the royals and their subjects continue to enjoy,  Although Prince Albert is oft-credited with bringing the Christmas tree to Britain, the tradition began earlier, perhaps with Queen Charlotte, consort of George III, who in 1800, placed "in the middle of room stood an immense tub with a yew-tree placed in it, from the branches of which hung bunches of sweetmeats, almonds and raisins..."

The British royal family also made Christmas into a family event, a time for parents and children come together.  Gift giving, simple gifts, became the touchstone for the celebrations. 

Christmas celebrations were also marred by family and political crises, which included the Crimean war, the issue of Schleswig-Holstein, two world wars, the deaths of the Prince Consort (1861) and Princess Alice (1878), and, the abdication of Edward VIII.  (I was surprised Archer did not mention the birth of Princess Alexandra, which occurred on Christmas Day, 1936, a moment of joy after the trauma of abdication.)

In 1854, Queen Victoria wrote:  "Poor Christmas Eve,  that happiest of festivals, comes this year at such at sad troubled time, which is quite distressing."

Archer devotes the final chapters to the Christmas broadcast, which began in 1932.  George V's broadcasts were live, sent out on radio to Britain and the Commonwealth.

The illustrations include photographs of royal Christmas cards.  

A Royal Christmas is meticulously researched and a delightful read, a book I know I will be dipping into from time to time, especially around Christmas.



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