The History Behind the Christmas Tree Angel Topper
Decking the halls isn't complete without this finishing touch.
I’m going to say something controversial here: The holidays don’t really get started until the Christmas tree is up. Sure, there’s Thanksgiving with its turkey and trimmings and pumpkin pie and friends and family gathered around the table, but the minute that Christmas tree goes up, it’s game on for the holidays. Nothing else quite says ‘tis the season like pulling out the family ornaments to decorate the old Tannenbaum.
First go on the lights and the keepsake ornaments and brightly colored balls and baubles, then maybe tinsel or bows, and, finally, a tree topper to finish the job and kick off the holiday season.
Christmas tree toppers come in a variety of forms and styles, but one of the most common is an angel. It makes sense, since angels play an important role in the nativity story and have the Christmas carols to back it up (“Angels We Have Heard on High”, “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”, “Angels From the Realms of Glory”, etc.) There’s history behind it, too. Back in 1605, when Christmas trees were first becoming popular in Germany, baby Jesus topped the tree that was decorated with gingerbread and gold-covered apples, according to WhyChristmas.com. Eventually people switched to putting an angel on top of the evergreen to remind people of both the angel Gabriel and the angels that served as a celestial birth announcement.
The person we really have to thank for the popularity of the angel Christmas tree toppers, though, is the same woman we have to thank for popularizing Christmas trees in general—Queen Victoria.
While bringing some greenery into the home in winter time was a practice originated by the Egyptians and then given a little boost by the Romans, Brits, Germans, Latvians, and Martin Luther, it was the image of Queen Victoria and her family gathered around the tree that brought Christmas trees into the mainstream and cemented the tradition. Back in 1848, when an engraving of Queen Victoria, her husband Prince Albert, and their children decorating a tree with lights at Windsor made the rounds, everyone wanted a Christmas tree. (More on that here.) In the picture, the royal family decked their halls and rather sparse evergreen with lights and ornaments and topped it with an angel. It was that image that became the standard for Christmas trees and their decorations.
While some families opt for Santa Claus or a Star of Bethlehem or some other family heirloom or designer idea, thanks to Queen Victoria and her family’s traditions, angels are considered the classic choice. Whatever you choose to top your tree with, just know this: The moment the topper goes up the holidays have started.