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 start until the Christmas tree is up. Sure, there's Thanksgiving with its turkey and trimmings, the pumpkin pie, and friends and family gathered around the table, but the minute the 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, the lights and keepsake ornaments go on the tree, then brightly colored balls and baubles, maybe tinsel or bows, and finally, a tree topper to finish the job and kick off the holiday season.

Angel Tree Topper
Kirsty Lee / EyeEm / Getty Images

Christmas tree toppers come in various forms and styles, but one of the most common is an angel. It makes sense since angels play an essential 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"). There's a history behind it, too.

Back in 1605, when Christmas trees were first popular in Germany, baby Jesus topped the tree decorated with gingerbread and gold-covered apples, according to 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 have to thank for the popularity of the angel Christmas tree toppers is the same woman we have to thank for popularizing Christmas trees in general—Queen Victoria.

Queen Victoria Christmas Tree Engraving
Getty Images

Bringing some greenery into the home during winter was a practice originated by the Egyptians, then given a little boost by the Romans, Brits, Germans, Latvians, and Martin Luther. However, the image of Queen Victoria and her family gathered around the tree 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. In the picture, the royal family decked their halls with a relatively sparse evergreen with lights and ornaments and topped it with an angel. That image 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, know this: The moment the topper goes up, the holidays have started.

Alternative Tree Toppers

Even if the angel is considered the traditional tree topper, there are various additional ways to add a festive charm to your spruce. So whether you want to break from the standard or have more than one Christmas tree to decorate, here are a few of our favorite tree topper ideas.

01 of 07

Delicate Ribbons

Suspend the Tree Topper
Add an unexpected detail to a monochromatic Christmas tree by hanging your tree topper from the ceiling. First, choose a shape that plays off your Christmas ornaments, as this round paper lantern mirrors the round ornaments on the tree. Attach a ceiling hook right above your tree's tallest point. Float the lantern by hanging it from a bow attached to the hook. For added impact, attach cascading ribbon or garland from the bottom of your hanging tree topper. This modern Christmas tree decoration idea makes a big impact without appearing over-decorated or tired, and will stand out among the rest in creativity and originality. See the rest of this tree. Laurey W. Glenn

This lovely tree topper adds a delicate pop of color to your Christmas tree. Making your ribbon tree topper is easy because you can find the supplies at most craft or specialty Christmas stores. Plus, you can change it every season.

02 of 07

Butterfly Beauty

Butterfly Christmas Tree Topper by Charlotte Lucas
Photo: Laurey W. Glenn; Styling: Elly Poston Cooper

Add some natural beauty to your tree by crafting a butterfly-inspired topper. These colorful depictions add a joyful quality to this festive decor. These winged creations create an implied movement, helping your eyes dance around the tree.

03 of 07

Homemade Star

Christmas Decorating Ideas: Tartan Tree Topper
Make your own Christmas tree topper. Cut from -inch-thick foam core board, this star topper is covered with tartan and edged with -inch ribbon. Decorated with a trio of jingle bells, it's studded with plaid buttons that add interest. Photo by Beth Dreiling Hontzas

Stars are one of the more popular options for tree toppers. Use this classic shape as your base and have your family customize a tree topper by adding buttons, ribbons, and any other embellishment you like. The green and red plaid complement this seasonal design.

04 of 07

Christmas Bells

Christmas Decorating Ideas: Bell Toppers
Bunch fresh holly from the yard and large gold temple bells on top of the Christmas tree for a bold use of traditional materials. Experiment with different toppers using fresh greenery or flowers―nice decorating alternatives to the typical star. Photo by Monica Buck

Hear the seasonal jingle bells in your home by using them for a tree topper. There is a vintage quality to this musical and whimsical design. Pair the gold-copper bells with holly berries for a pop of color.

05 of 07

Coastal Christmas

Palm Fronds Tree Topper
Hector M Sanchez

When you live in the South, dreaming of a snowy, white Christmas isn't always practical. Embrace your coastal Christmas by using palm leaves for a tree topper. The gold-fanned leaves shine bright on this tree.

06 of 07

Wrapped in Ribbon

Christmas Tree with Red and Blue Ribbons
Alison Gootee; Styling: Elizabeth Demos

Use your tree topper as inspiration for your whole tree's decor. Start by creating a bow at the top of the tree, then let the remaining ribbon cascade down the sides. Use more than one color ribbon and coordinate the colors with your ornaments or room decor.

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Color Coordinated

Glistening Gold Christmas Tree Ribbon
Bring a holiday glow to your home with a tree wrapped in wow-worthy gold. Plus, we love a simple bow with ends trailing down the tree as a topper. Laurey W.Glenn

For a sophisticated design, find a tree topper that coordinates with your tree's ornaments. Stick with one color, or a combination of colors, to make a statement. Gold and silver are popular choices to decorate a Christmas tree in a cohesive way that looks great in any room.

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