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German Christmas Tradition Lights Up Queen’s Windsor Castle

FROM DEC. 2015: What's behind the Christmas tree tradition? 4:08

LAUSCHA, Germany — A 40-foot Christmas tree is dazzling visitors at one of Queen Elizabeth II's royal residences this holiday season — thanks to her great-great-grandfather's German birthplace.

Image: A delegation from Lauscha, Germany
A delegation from Lauscha, Germany, stand in front of the tree at Windsor Castle. Mathias Heerwagen

The Bavarian town of Coburg donated a Nordmann fir to celebrate the British monarch's 90th birthday.

It was grown in the same forest as the first tree imported to England by the U.K.'s royal family. Prince Albert and his wife Queen Victoria popularized decorated Christmas trees by introducing the German tradition to England in the 1840s.

The gifted tree, which is visible outside Windsor Castle, is a "beautiful centerpiece to the wider festivities," said Sayonara Luxton, mayor of the Royal Borough of Windsor.

The tree traveled to Windsor, which is located just west of London, in style in November.

It arrived in a Mercedes truck with "Christmas Tree Express for the Queen" emblazoned on it.

However, that wasn't enough to prevent the vehicle from getting issued with a parking ticket outside the castle by what Britain's Daily Telegraph called "an overzealous traffic warden." The fine was quickly withdrawn by apologetic town officials.

Image: Queen Elizabeth II poses at Windsor Catle
Queen Elizabeth II poses with four of her dogs at Windsor Castle in a photo taken by Annie Leibovitz that was released to mark the British monarch's 90th birthday. ANNIE LEIBOVITZ / AFP - Getty Images, file

Ten visitors from Germany accompanied the tree, including 45-year old Romy Steiner from the quaint eastern German village of Lauscha.

Steiner runs Germany's only glassblowing school that specializes in Christmas tree ornaments.

Far beyond the country's borders, Lauscha is known as the birthplace of the Christmas tree "Kugel" — or bauble.

Steiner said she was asked by Coburg officials to design special glass ornaments for the queen. She added that displaying their ornaments at Windsor Castle was "a great honor."

Image: Student designs glass ornaments in Lauscha, Germany
A student designs ornaments at a glass-blowing school in Lauscha, Germany, on Dec. 1. Andy Eckardt / NBC News

The school's 27 apprentices and four teachers designed a golden bauble with imprints of the arms of Coburg and the crest of their own county, Sonneberg.

Günther Horn, who comes from a traditional Lauscha glassblowing family, said the special order for the queen was "the chance of a lifetime."

Horn, who grew up in the town when it was still part of former communist East Germany, said that only 50 of the 600 glass manufacturing plants that used to exist there survived the changes after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

"In the old days, we manufactured for export to West Germany only," Horn explained, adding that "before Christmas, locals would often wait in line on little wooden stools at six in the morning to get hold of a few baubles."

Watch Craftsman Gunther Horn Create Exquisite Glass Ornaments 0:40

Distributors in the United States are among the main customers of Lauscha's famous product, but "business could be better" amid "cheap imitations" from countries including China, Horn said.

The school used old East German stock of special brown glass tubes to make the unique ornaments delivered to Windsor.

The school hopes that the more than 1,000 baubles hanging on Windsor tree will also shine a light on Lauscha's traditions.

Only "one thing is missing" from the perfect Christmas, according to Steiner.

"A thank you note from the queen would be just wonderful," she added.

Image: Crowds in Windsor enjoy the tree
Crowds enjoy the tree in Windsor, England. Romy Steiner