This excerpt from the anthology Christmas Notes and Queries (A Medium of Intercommunication for Literary Men, General Readers, etc. – 1886) describes CHRISTMAS AT THE ROYAL COURT OF THE GERMAN EMPEROR and EMPRESS during the mid 1880s.
As being at once interesting and likely to be overlooked unless here made permanent, I venture to deal with a communication from the Berlin correspondent of the Daily News.
An old custom, he says, prescribes the celebration of Christmas by the royal family of Prussia in a private manner at the Emperor’s palace, in which the ” blue dining-hall ” on the first floor is specially arranged for the festival. In this room are two long rows of tables, two smaller tables (which remain empty until the Emperor and Empress have left the hall, being destined to hold the presents for their Majesties) being placed in the corners on each side of the pillared door leading to the ball-room.
On the rows of tables stand twelve of the finest fir trees, almost reaching to the ceiling, covered with countless white wax candles in wire holders, but otherwise undecorated. In the afternoon of Dec. 24 great packages of presents for the Imperial household are brought in, and the chamberlain, in the Emperor’s presence, distributes them on the tables under the trees. “
The venerable monarch always takes an active part in this work, and, walking about briskly from one table to the other, helps to place the objects in the most advantageous positions, and fastens on them slips of white paper on which he himself has written the names of the recipients. The Empress is also present, sitting in her easy chair, and occupied with arranging the presents for the ladies of her own household.”
At four o’clock the entire royal family, down to the fourth generation, meet in the large dining-hall for their Christmas dinner. The Emperor is always in excellent humour. In 1884 he celebrated his eighty-eighth Christmas ; opposite to him sat his great-grandson, little Prince William, who will one day be the fourth German Emperor, eating his third Christmas dinner. In addition to the whole of the princes and princesses, without exception, and the members of the Imperial household, the guests include the chiefs of the military and civil cabinets and a number of adjutants.
Soon after dinner is ended, at a sign from the Emperor, the double doors leading to the blue hall are thrown wide open, “and the brilliant sight of the twelve great fir-trees bearing thousands of lighted tapers is disclosed to view. This is the great moment of the German Christmas Eve celebration. The Emperor gives his arm to the Crown’ Princess, the Crown Prince follows with the Empress, and the other couples also form in procession, and all proceed to the Christmas room.
The Emperor and the Empress then personally lead the members of their households to the presents which are grouped in long rows on the tables, and which comprise hundreds of articles, both valuable and useful, objects of art, pictures, statuary, etc. Meanwhile, the two separate tables still remain hidden under white draperies. In other rooms all the officials and servants of the palace, down to the youngest stable-boy, are presented with their Christmas boxes.
At about nine o’clock the Imperial family and their guests again return to the dining-room, where a plain supper is then served. According to old tradition, the menu always includes the following dishes: Carp cooked in beer (a Polish custom), and ‘ Mohnpielen,’ an East Prussian dish, composed of poppy-seed, white bread, almonds, and raisins, stewed in milk.
After the supper all return once more to the Christmas room, where the second part of the celebration—the exchange of presents among the Royal Family—then comes off. The Emperor’s table stands on the right side of the ball-room door, and every object placed on it bears a paper with such inscriptions as :—* Papa von Kron Prinzessin Victoria,’ ‘ Papa von Fritz und Victoria,’ ‘ Grosspapa von Wilhelm und Augusta Victoria,’ &c. The presents for the Empress on the other table are arranged in the same manner.
Among the objects never missing at the Emperor’s Christmas are some large Nuremberg ginger cakes, with the inscription’ Weihnachten,’ and the year. About half-an-hour later tea is taken, and this terminates the Christmas Eve of the first family of the German Empire.”