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The Origin and History of the Christmas Tree

Throughout the western world at Christmas time the Christmas tree is an essential part of the festive celebrations. Here we take a look at how the Christmas tree became such an integral part of Christmas plus where it originated.

Christmas tree

Long Ago before Christianity Began

Many people think that the Christmas tree became part of our Christian celebrations and originated during the Victorian era. In part it is true that the popularity of the tree escalated when Queen Victoria made it fashionable to bring the tree inside at the festive time of year but we can look back much further to before the start of Christianity to see how people used evergreen foliage as part of their own celebrations.

Ancient people would hang fir or spruce branches and greenery just as we do now to celebrate their own occasions with winter celebrations being foremost in their calendar. Many people back then thought that hanging greenery over their doors and windows would ward off evil spirits or keep out witches, goblins and even keep illness away from their households.

The winter solstice was one such occasion where ancient people believed that the Sun god became weak around the 21st December, which is the shortest day and they would hang greenery to remind themselves of how spring would eventually come and crops and plants would once again grow, meaning the Sun god was once again well.

Other Civilisations

The early Romans celebrated a feast called the Saturnalia that marked the winter solstice as they too recognised that once the shortest day had passed then spring would arrive bringing with it new growth meaning crops and fruits would once again be plentiful. The Romans would decorate their homes and temples with greenery to symbolise new growth.

The same is true of the Vikings who decorated their homes with greenery as they thought it was special and belonged to the sun god Balder. The ancient Druids also decorated their temples with greenery to symbolise everlasting life. When Christianity adopted the tree legend had it that when Christ was born in the cold days of winter that trees shook off the snow and ice turning green as the Christ child was born.

The German Influence

In sixteenth century Germany many people would bring trees into their homes and decorate them. Martin Luther the Protestant reformer is said to have put candles on his tree in order to symbolise the stars shining in the heavens. People who could not afford to bring a tree inside would build wooden pyramids and cover them with greenery in order to make them look tree like. Christmas trees then would be decorated with edible things such as gingerbread.

German settlers in Pennsylvania  America also decorated trees, while Americans back then thought this a Pagan ritual rather than a Christian celebration. In England Oliver Cromwell who led the Puritans also objected to greenery, trees and decorations siting them as Pagan in origin.

Queen Victoria

Queen Victoria and her family were very popular royals with the regular population of England, while whatever the queen did or portrayed as right many wanted to emulate. So it was, when a picture of Queen Victoria, her husband and children was featured in the London News, standing around a decorated Christmas tree in Windsor Castle in 1841. Everyone in England wanted to copy the queen as did many Americans too and so the popularity of the Christmas tree really took off.

The Victorian Christmas Tree

Christmas trees in Victorian times were decorated with candles to symbolise the stars in the sky, in fact some countries within Europe still carry on this tradition today. The Germans were responsible for making tinsel popular with the first tinsel being made from silver therefore only those who could afford it would have tinsel on their tree. In 1895 the first Christmas tree lights were invented by Ralph Morris an American who witnessed his own child setting a tree on fire with a candle. This event spurred him on for safety reasons, while tree lights have changed very little since.

The Artificial Christmas Tree

The Artificial Christmas Tree

Artificial Christmas trees made an appearance at the beginning of the twentieth century. The Edwardians would create trees from colourful ostrich feathers, while white Christmas trees originated around 1900. This comes as quite a surprise as many of us think the coloured Christmas tree is a modern innovation.

Artificial trees have been produced from all kinds of materials over the decades including paper, feathers, metal, glass and PVC. The tallest artificial Christmas tree ever to be created was made by Grupo Sonae Distribucao Brazil and was a whopping one hundred and seventy feet high. It was called the Peace Tree and was sited in Moinhos de Vento Park in Brazil Christmas 2001/2.

Christmas Trees Today

No home would be complete at Christmas time without a Christmas tree be it real or artificial. Where would we place our presents if we did not have a tree? Those of us who know the facts surrounding how the tree originated and like to keep up the tradition would not think of celebrating Christmas without a Christmas tree.

Christmas tree decorations are much safer these days too with regulations in place to ensure that trimmings are flame proof and safe to use. The wonder and beauty of a decorated Christmas tree is a sight to behold especially for children and we can't wait to once again put up our tree when the festive season begins.