A BRIEF HISTORY OF CHRISTMAS TREES

 

Each Christmas many of us follow the tradition of bringing a tree into our home and decorating it with lights, and other beautiful or sentimental objects.

 

But why do we do it? When did this tradition start and what does it mean? Read on to find out! 


Before evergreen trees became symbolic of Christmas, they were used by pagan Norsemen in northern Germany to ward off evil spirits. Pagans believed in nature spirits and worshipped trees such as the oak, which was often used to represent the Norse god Odin. They believed that, as winter approached, it brought with it malicious spirits, culminating with the Winter Solstice when winter was at its darkest. It was thought that plants and trees which stayed green throughout the year had special powers to ward off the spirits accompanying the darkness. Mistletoe and holly were popular and were often wound into wreaths and hung-over windows and doors to keep the evil spirits at bay.


This practice of using evergreens was also followed in the UK but the first Christmas trees didn’t arrive in Britain in the late 18th/early 19th century. Once again, the Germans were involved! King George III reigned from 1760 until 1820 and his German-born wife, Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, introduced a Christmas tree at a party she gave for children in 1800. The custom did not at first spread much beyond the royal family. Queen Victoria as a child was familiar with it, and a tree was placed in her room every Christmas. In her journal for Christmas Eve 1832, the 13-year-old princess wrote:


“After dinner... we then went into the drawing-room near the dining-room... There were two large round tables on which were placed two trees hung with lights and sugar ornaments. All the presents being placed round the trees...”


The popularity of Christmas trees rocketed in the 1840’s thanks to Prince Albert (Queen Victoria's German husband) who had a decorated Christmas Tree in Windsor Castle. In 1848 the Illustrated London News published a drawing of the royal couple with a beautifully decorated tree, and within a few years the sight was common throughout wealthier homes in Britain.

 
V&A Christmas tree.jpg

In Victorian times, the tree would have been decorated with candles to represent stars. In many parts of Europe, candles are still used to decorate Christmas trees in the traditional way.


As the wealth of the country gradually increased, Christmas trees were found in more and more homes until we reached the present-day situation where pretty much everyone who observes Christmas puts up a tree of some description.


The most common type of Christmas tree currently sold in the UK is the Nordmann Fir, and for good reason. These have beautiful, soft foliage and a prized for their ‘non- drop’ needles. Many customers are surprised to learn that it takes approximately 10 years for a Nordmann Fir seed to grow into a 6ft tree!


The tree that most people consider to be the ‘traditional’ Christmas tree is the Norway Spruce. Demand has reduced in recent years as people switch to the Nordmann Fir which is less prone to needle drop. It is true that the Norway Spruce will shed needles if not properly hydrated but, if bought fresh and kept in water, needle drop is massively reduced. We believe that the Norway Spruce remains a great option for many people.

 

There are numerous other type of beautiful trees available; Noble Fir, Blue Spruce, Fraser Fir and many others. Whichever variety you opt for, visit your nearest ‘pick your own’ Christmas tree farm to be sure you are buying a tree that is as fresh as possible.


The time people erect the tree in their home varies considerably. It can be as early as the first day of advent which is the fourth Sunday before Christmas. In 2020 this falls on Sunday 29th November, and it then gets earlier until 2022 when the first day of advent is 27th November. Others hold off until Christmas eve and some exchange presents at the same time. Many aim to have their tree up by 1st December, which coincides with children starting to open their advent calendars.


The date most people take their tree down is on or before 12th night (5th January). It is widely believed that if you leave your tree up beyond that date it will bring bad luck. Regardless of whether you believe in superstitions, and no matter how much you love Christmas, it’s got to stop at some point, and 12th night is a pretty good time to draw a close to the festivities.

 
wakehurst xmas tree.jpg

Perhaps the most famous Christmas tree worldwide is the Rockefeller Plaza tree, which is erected in New York each year.

 

A tradition that was established over 80 years ago, it is currently estimated that half million people view the tree every day. If you're planning a trip, the lights are turned on from late November onwards!

Since 1947, Norway has donated a tree to London as a ‘thank you’ for British support during World War II.

 

A tree cutting ceremony is held in Norway each November. It is then transported to London, erected in Trafalgar square and decorated in the traditional Norwegian way, with strings of lights going down the tree, rather than criss-crossing it.


Closer to home, at Wakehurst Place near Ardingly, the staff light up a magnificent 110ft tall Redwood with 1800 lights.

 

It’s well worth a visit, particularly in the late afternoon so you can watch the lights being turned on. 

 

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