Christmas at Versailles, Noël à Versailles
From the celebration of the Nativity to the arrival of the Christmas tree at the Court, how was Christmas celebrated at the court of Versailles?
Under the Ancien Régime, the festivals were essentially placed under the sign of religion: masses, devotions, charity. Christmas celebrations were above all religious celebrations intended for praying.
On December 24th and 25th 1697, Christmas Eve: the king Louis XIV made his devotions in the morning. After dinner he heard vespers; then he made the distribution of the vacant profits. At ten o'clock he returned to the chapel, and did not leave it until he had heard the three midnight masses as he does every year. On the 25th Christmas Day: the king heard high mass and attended all the devotions of the day.
The custom of this years also wants that on Christmas Eve (as on All Saints, Easter and Pentecost).
The king Louis XIV touches the sick with scrofula. From this healing action comes the famous phrase,
(The king touches you, God heals you). At this time the population still strongly believes in the coronation (religious ceremony), which confers on the elected the power to cure this tuberculosis of the lymph nodes.
Louis XIV also got into the habit of shutting himself up with his confessor, Father la Chaise, and he often worked late at night with Madame de Maintenon and certain ministers. So this is by no means a festive evening ... Moreover, the monarch forbids games, shows and comedies during Advent!.
His successor Louis XV is less strict: courtiers are asked to keep quiet only during Christmas Eve. The Duc de Luynes wrote it for example in his Memoirs in December 1743: Tuesday, Christmas Eve, there was no comedy or game; this is the custom. The Queen retired to her closets after she had returned from the church.
Tradition also has it that a sermon is given every Advent Sunday and that a member of the Court does the collection on Christmas Eve.
Thus, from the month of December, Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette made it their duty to help the poor, going so far as to draw on their personal funds to help the needy.
The Marquis de Dangeau tells us that on December 24, 1705, Louis XIV made his devotions, went to vespers and salute.
Between these offices, the king made the distribution of the benefits. He supped at nine o'clock, and on leaving the table, he went with the royal family to matins and attended the three midnight masses. On December 25, the king and the royal family heard high mass, and in the afternoon sermon and vespers.
As we can see, the Christmas program is rather "devout". No New Years Eve, Christmas trees or gifts. If there are gifts, they are not systematic, even for royal children.
On Christmas Eve, the royal family eats lean: fish, soups, and seafood. After mass, everyone takes a larger meal, the fasting period is over: the fatty meal. We eat a lot of suckling lambs and especially poultry, more noble: goose, capon and of course turkey. The latter appeared in France in the 16th century and came from the Spanish Indies (the Americas), hence its name: the Indian hen, the turkey! Exotic and therefore rare, it soon supplants the goose at the kings table. Meats are often stuffed and truffled.
Another traditional Christmas dish that would have appeared at the Court of the Sun King: iced chestnut. The exact origin is a little unclear, however it is certain that Louis XIV and his courtiers were very fond of it, especially for Christmas.
The Christmas tree at Versailles
Under Louis XV, the tree made a timid appearance with Queen Marie Leszcynska who introduced it to Versailles. But it did not become really popular until the 19th century: Princess Hélène de Mecklenburg brought it to Paris in 1837, after her marriage to the Duke of Orleans, and had a tree decorated at the Tuileries. This tradition spread throughout France after the Franco-Prussian war of 1870.
The emigres of Alsace-Lorraine made the tradition of the fir tree known to the French. A saying goes: "Where there is a family Alsatian, there is a Christmas tree ".
The doctor of the young Dauphin, future Louis XIII, testifies on December 25, 1605: The servant arrives, the dauphin future Louis XIII sees him putting logs on the fire, says that it is the coming of Christmas, especially since the day before, before supper, he saw the Christmas stump put on, where he danced. and sang at the coming of Christmas.
The custom of decorating a tree for the Christmas holidays comes from Germany and the countries of Eastern Europe. In the 18th century, this tradition was not at all in the customs of the French! The Germanic princesses who arrive at Versailles are amazed. One of the first to try to disseminate this folklore at court was a Bavarian princess: Elisabeth-Charlotte, second wife of Louis XIV's brother.
in Germany at this period of time the trees were decorated, it also tables are set up like altars and which are furnished for each child of all kinds of things, new clothes, money, silk, dolls, candy, and all kinds of things. Box trees are placed on these tables, and a small candle is attached to each branch: it has the prettiest effect in the world. it is said that Marie Leszczynska, on her arrival in France, finally succeeded in establishing the custom by having a tree decorated at the Palace of Versailles.
In reality, it was not until the arrival of another German princess to see this tradition popularize at court. Hélène de Mecklenbourg arrived in France in 1837 to marry the Duke of Orleans, eldest son of King Louis-Philippe. She has wonderful memories of the Christmases spent with her family, when her parents and siblings gathered in Friedensburg around the Christmas tree to exchange their presents ... Boxing day 1837, the first she spends in France, the Duchess of Orleans wrote to her mother, delighted:
On Christmas Eve, the good queen [Marie-Amélie de Bourbon] had given me a surprise, by secretly decorating a beautiful tree that was placed in my white living room, to remind me of Germany.
A tradition that seems to have settled in the circle of the royal family, since on January 1, 1844, when Hélène was already a young widow after the accidental death of her husband, she wrote again to her mother: We have, as in the past, ended the year with the king, under the illuminated tree. The children had great joy with their gifts.
December 31st and New Year's gifts at Versailles
In this period at the Palace of Versailles, gifts were given not for Christmas but to celebrate the New Year. It is the occasion for the king, the queen and the princes to show their gratitude or their friendship to the members of their house and of the Court by endowing them with a jewel or by giving them a certain sum of money: the New Year's gifts.
On January 1, 1606, the (5-year-old Dauphin Louis XIII) was excited to be able to distribute presents to courtiers. The following year (6-year-old Dauphin Louis XIII), on December 26, he asked to write: "I want to write a little book that I want to have printed, to send to his father [Henri IV de Borbón] for his New Year's gifts. "
At the Palace of Versailles, in the cabinet of the Pendulum, under the reign of Louis XV and Louis XVI, the king, accompanied by the royal family, waited until midnight to attend the passage to the new year.
The pendulum, very beautifully made, indicated the hour but also the day, the month and the year.
Christmas was not yet the high mass of consumption that we know. It was rather a time of penance and meditation. On the other hand, it seems that the custom of turkey with chestnuts already existed under Louis XIV. This animal imported from America was raised in Versailles for the occasion. It is also from this period that candied chestnuts date.
The Christmas cribs, faithful to the Bible, would have been encouraged by Louis XIV under the influence of the very pious Madame de Maintenon. As for greeting cards, they would also have appeared during this period.
The practice gained importance under Louis XIV. On December 31, 1699, the king did not hesitate to analyze with his critical eye the gifts that the courtiers were going to give to his grandson's wife:
In the evening, at Madame de Maintenon's, all the ladies of the Duchess of Burgundy had the presents they gave to this princess for her New Year's Eve to be brought in a large manna. The king took the trouble to open everything and see everything, and found the presents very well chosen.
Louis XIV very often gives money that his relatives are happy to spend afterwards as they please!
The Sun King Louis XIV is also used to ordering gold snuffboxes from the Menus Plaisirs administration for the occasion. A ritual maintained under Louis XV.
Christmas celebration today
After the revolution in France the celebration of Christmas Holidays at Versailles palace is set a minimum expression, but on the other side it is maintained at the top level at the chateau de VAUX LE VICOMTE, the most beautiful private family owned Chateau in France, in hands of a private owner the Family of the Count Patrice de Vogüé.
It is Highly recommended to visit this amazing chateau specially during holiday season, they spend a fortune every year to decorate the chateau for holidays with many Christmas trees on each of the main rooms of the chateau.
At Jardinier du Roi we want to celebrate the Holiday seasons with Joy as they do at Vaux le Vicomte, and we also want to send message to all our customers, followers, French style lovers who loves what we do. We wish you all, Peace, Health, love, Harmony, Patience and Perseverance in faith.
Happy Holidays to you all!
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