Christmas returns to the Alexander Palace

Christmas/New Year’s Tree in the Pallisander (Rosewood) Living Room
Photo © Tsarskoye Selo State Museum Reserve

The Tsarskoye Selo State Museum decided this year to restore the tradition of decorating a Christmas/New Year’s tree in the Alexander Palace. Today, a live spruce tree was installed in the Pallisander (Rosewood) Living Room and decorated with more than forty authentic toys from the early 20th century from the museum’s collection.

From 1905 to 1917, the Alexander Palace was the centre of Russian statehood, and the permanent residence of Emperor Nicholas II and his family. It was here that they celebrated the New Year holidays, which included Christmas – the Imperial Family and their close associates all took part in decorating the tree and gifts for it.

Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna celebrated Christmas in the Alexander Palace for the first time in 1895. It became a favourite family holiday and was celebrated on a grand scale. According to eyewitnesses, at least eight trees were installed in the palace, and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna herself took part in the decoration of each of them. She also chose gifts for the entire palace staff, including lackeys, cooks and stokers, a separate Christmas tree was decorated for them and the children’s nanny.

It was not until 1915, that the Alexander Palace became the permanent residence of the Imperial Family, however, they celebrated their first Christmas at Tsarskoye Selo on 24th December 1904.

PHOTO: OTMA seated in front of a Christmas tree in the Alexander Palace

Each year, on the 24th, the children would dress up in their finery and decorate a Christmas tree on the second floor, where there private rooms were situated. The first floor was set aside for the main family holiday. That evening, the Emperor and his wife visited the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna in the Gatchina Palace. There they also attended the Christmas Vigil service. The imperial couple returned to Tsarskoye Selo at 11 o’clock in the evening and arranged their Christmas tree in the Empress’s new room (apparently referring to the Maple Drawing Room of Alexandra Feodorovna).

In subsequent years, the celebration of Christmas in the Alexander Palace took place according to that of previous years: a Christmas tree for the children on the second floor, the main family holiday on the first: several separate trees for servants and guards in the ceremonial halls, and in Alexandra Feodorovna’s rooms – a tree for the Emperor and Empress. The last tree decorated in the Alexander Palace was in December 1916.

The celebration of the New Year was significantly inferior in scale to that of Christmas. Throughout the entire reign of Nicholas II, December 31st was a festive day for the Emperor. The last day of the year stood out with a small festive tea party with the participation of family members, as well as a New Year’s prayer service, at which the Emperor was always present.

© Paul Gilbert. 22 December 2021