Sara  Adderson, deputy curator at Ely Museum, writes about the origins of some of our festive traditions.

Ely Standard: Sara Adderson is the deputy curator of Ely Museum.Sara Adderson is the deputy curator of Ely Museum. (Image: Ely Museum)

As we get into the festive spirit here at Ely Museum, it’s a great time to look at the historical origins and fascinating facts behind some of the Christmas traditions that we enjoy each year.

Many people know that Christmas trees became popular in the Victorian period when in 1840, Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria, had several spruce firs imported from Germany, where he had grown up.

Each year the royal family decorated these trees and illustrations and descriptions were shared in newspapers and magazines, starting a trend.

However, Prince Albert wasn’t the first to have a Christmas Tree in England. Queen Charlotte, the wife of George II, had one at Windsor in 1800.

Tinsel is much older than you might think. It was invented in Germany in 1610 and was originally made from thinly shredded silver.

Fake trees are also not just a modern invention: there were 19th Century German fake trees made out of goose feathers dyed green, and in the 1930s a British company made fake trees out of the same animal hair bristles that were used in toilet brushes.

The Victorians introduced many other Christmas traditions to the UK as well. The first Christmas crackers were invented by a confectioner in London called Tom Smith.

He had seen French sweets sold in twists of coloured paper and added the ‘pop’ sound, which he patented in 1847.

It was his son who added paper hats and novelty gifts, in order to stay ahead of their competitors.

Some festive traditions are older than the Victorians, however. The Christmas nativity scene is thought to date to 1223 in Italy, and Christmas puddings have been made since the middle ages.

Carol singers were thought to be to disruptive of church services and so carol singing was banned from churches in the Medieval Period, which is where the tradition of carollers going from door to door first started.

The big Christmas celebration at Ely Museum is on 9th and 10th December, when Father Christmas will be visiting. Tickets are £5 per child and sold on the door. More information can be found on our website: