Monday 10 December 2018

Magical Dolls: Yule Tree Fairy & Angel Folklore

The bringing of greenery into the home is an old tradition for the time around the Midwinter Solstice on December 21, probably dating back to ancient pagan times. However, the decorating of Christmas trees didn’t start until the 15th or 16th century in Germany and Scandinavia.

At first things like biscuits were hung from the trees, but decorations grew more elaborate. The tree-topper came later, but was originally a star – a symbol for the star of Bethlehem. Angel dolls as tree toppers generally represented Gabriel, the messenger of God in the Christmas story. In the UK, decorated fir trees only became popular in Victorian times.

Pictures of Queen Victoria’s Christmas tree, complete with angel doll, appeared in newspapers and started a trend. Then in England in the 20th century the angel tree-toppers developed into a passion for fairy dolls, which reached a peak from about the 1950s up to the 1970s, but you can still get them, of course.

Many of us have ones that have been handed down in our family as a treasured item. The one in the photo to the left is one that is still put on the tree every year in the home of my relatives.

Where did the idea of the Christmas tree fairy come from? According to History of the Christmas Fairy Doll by Susan Brewer, an old folkloric belief was that fairies slept in holly during the winter months. Holly has a long history of being used to decorate homes for the winter festival, presumably bringing fairies with it.

However, as Susan Brewer points out, fairies were originally considered dangerous. In Victorian times good fairies started to prevail over bad ones and the Victorians associated them with Christmas as well as with summer. In pantomimes, it was usually the good fairy or fairy godmother who helped the heroes defeat the villain. They might have moved from the panto to the tree.

One idea is that Yule tree decorations, as well as looking bright and cheerful at the darkest time of the year, act as magical protection.

Anything wishing to cause trouble around the home would be attracted by the shiny trinkets dangling from the tree, which would take their attention away from the mischief they had in mind. A fairy or angel on the top could be considered the ultimate guardian overseeing this as well as bringing joy and delight to those celebrating the midwinter festival – whatever we call it.

Who wouldn’t want a guardian angel or fairy watching over them, especially at Christmas or Yuletide?

You can easily craft your own dolls to represent this. Earlier this month I blogged with instructions to make an angle or fairy Yule tree hanging ornament and how to make an easy angel tree topper.

You can view History of the Christmas Fairy Doll on Amazon and also view my own book, Pagan Portals - Poppets and Magical Dolls on Amazon.

The photos on this page show handmade angels on my own Yule tree, my family fairy doll and Christmas angel dolls dating from 1910-1920, at the Museum of Childhood.

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