The Origin of the Christmas Tree
Decorating the Christmas tree is a yearly tradition that symbolises the beginning of the Christmas season in many homes, but where exactly does this tradition come from? Discover the history of the Christmas tree and its origin story from medieval times, all the way to now.
Origin of the Christmas Tree
The history of Christmas trees can be traced back thousands of years to ancient Europe, and more precisely, Germany. The Germans had a tradition of planting a pine tree on the shortest day of the year, the winter solstice. Each village would have their own Christmas tree in the centre as a symbol of blossoming and hope, as spring and summer would return again. They would decorate the pine tree with apples, gingerbread, and other edible items.
Similarly, the Romans also decorated their homes with green branches and trees, as they symbolised eternal life, fertility and divinity. They specifically chose pine tree branches because they retained their colour throughout the seasons, and would embellish them with religious decorations such as suns, moons and stars.
The Christmas tree rose to popularity in 1846, after Queen Victoria and her German husband, Prince Albert set up a Christmas tree in their home at Windsor Castle. Due to her being a trendsetter at the time, it became popular to have a Christmas tree among the rich and wealthy, and soon spread to the masses.
Christianity and the Christmas Tree
It is said that the Christmas tree was used during Christian winter festivals in the 15th century. This mainly happened in Eastern Europe, Germany and Scandinavia. Before the emergence of religion in these areas, there were formerly German tribes, so the tradition of having a Christmas tree may have stemmed from their culture.
Yet over the years there has been much resistance from Christianity to the Christmas tree, since the trees originally had nothing to do with Christian customs and traditions. For example, 1982 was the first time there was a Christmas tree in the Roman Catholic Vatican City.
Today, most schools of Christianity have accepted the Christmas tree since they have managed to associate the Christmas tree with a religious meaning. The Christmas tree is in the shape of a triangle and Christianity sees that triangle as a connection between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. In the beginning, a figure of Baby Jesus was put on top of the tree, but over time it changed to an angel/fairy and then a star, which symbolises the star that guided the Wise Men.
The Spread of the Christmas Tree Around the World
In the beginning of the 19th century, the German tradition of putting a Christmas tree in homes expanded to the United States, and can be traced to German settlers in Pennsylvania. It took Americans 50 years to establish the Christmas tree as a commercial product with taller and larger trees every year in various prominent places, such as Times Square in New York and the White House in Washington DC. German settlers also brought the Christmas tree to Canada, along with other Christmas items such as gingerbread houses, advent calendars and more.
Later, artificial Christmas trees were invented to combat the massive cutting down of Christmas trees and to stimulate the reuse of the trees. Christmas trees started being made from ostrich feathers, papier mâché, glass and many forms of plastic.
Today, Christmas trees are seen all over the world; the most famous one in London being the Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square. This tree has a special historical significance. It is a yearly gift from Norway, a tradition that started in 1947 as a token of appreciation and gratitude for the United Kingdom's allyship during World War II.
We hope you learnt something new in our brief rundown on the origins of the Christmas tree. If you enjoyed reading this article, you may also enjoy reading about some of the most unique customs and traditions around the world. If the lockdown has affected your Christmas plans, check out our article on the some winter activities that you can do at home.
Please Note: As the year slowly comes to a close, remember that the transition period for the UK to leave the EU will also end. Read our blog on How to Travel After Brexit so you are well-prepared for your future travels. Happy Holidays!