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.