In the High Peaks

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Dickens's A Christmas Tree & Hawthorne's The Shining Tree: Two Victorians Bring the Tree Home

First of all, not to mislead, the Hawthorne in question is Hildegarde Hawthorne, grand-daughter of Nathaniel and daughter of Nathaniel's son, the writer Julian Hawthorne. It is she who wrote the Christmas story (based on the facts passed down to her) about Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's encouragement and introduction of the German tree tradition to his Cambridge, Massachusetts, friends and neighbors. Wadsworth and Dickens were contemporaries, of course.

Katrina of Pining for the West has written about Dickens's A Christmas Tree in this post. Great cover! I told her I must find it somehow, thinking that I'll probably search Project Gutenberg first to satisfy my curiosity. 

So, until I manage that task, I'll mention that I read "The Shining Tree" in a small Christmas story collection published by Knopf in 1945 entitled The Shining Tree and Other Christmas Stories. I found this little gem in a rare and used bookstore in Northhampton, Massachusetts.
Wadsworth, the American poet so highly esteemed in his own day, visited Germany on a European Grand Tour and shipped home many brilliantly colored items with which to adorn a Christmas tree. Because Louisa May Alcott was around 14-16 years old in the story, it's likely that the tale is set on Christmas Day in 1854-1856 or so. Lots of details about the tree in this fabulous Christmas party that Henry and Fanny Longfellow gave for their friends and, most importantly, their children. It's so interesting to me that the native tree to Massachusetts that was cut was a "spruce!" This can only mean a red spruce or a white spruce. Both DID NOT and do not grow in Massachusetts in the late 20th or the 21st century. This fascinated me. Did these spruces grow on the hillsides west of Boston in the 1850s?? Mystery! They grow here in my Adirondack neighborhood, but we live to the north and west of the seashore climate of Greater Boston.


  1. You might be interested in this link Judith,
    I was told the Martin Luther story as a youngster, he was apparently trying to replicate the effect of the stars as seen through the trees during a woodland walk home. Interesting to read about the Mass. trees.

  2. Yes, Martin Luther! Katrina, I'd almost forgotten. I'm so glad to be reminded of that. Do you have a tree in the house?