english history · european history · history

The Story of the Christmas Tree

Merry Christmas Eve! I hope everyone’s Holiday Season has been amazing!

In this post I wanted to examine the tradition of the Christmas tree. Many believe that Victoria and Albert were the first to bring the Christmas tree to England, but (and this was new to me as well) it had already been an existing tradition for the royal family. The first known Christmas tree was actually set up in the Queen’s Lodge, which is located in Windsor castle, by Queen Charlotte (George III’s wife) in 1800. She had brought the tradition back from her homeland of Germany. Young Victoria wrote of the decorations she remembered being set up when she was a child while visiting her relatives for the holiday season.

Victoria, Albert and Family. Published in 1848

Yet, what Victoria and Albert did was bring the Christmas tree to the general public. Before, it was just a small English royal family tradition, but a drawing of the royal family standing around a lit Christmas tree was published in the Illustrated London News in 1848. The royal family was so popular that soon the majority of households began to set up their own trees that were decorated with candles. Prince Albert even sent Christmas trees to local schools and army barracks to celebrate the season. I find it interesting that (in England at least) what started as a private royal family tradition became a national tradition (even worldwide!) because Victoria decided to share her private and personal life with her subjects.  I can see why they loved her for it. Victoria had such an influence that so many traditions are now a result of her family (such as the Christmas tree, the white wedding dress, Christmas cards, etc).

But, the Christmas tree itself is an older tradition outside of England. It is believed to come from pagan traditions; the Egyptians, Celts, Vikings, and Romans used trees in their worshiping rituals. The Celts and Vikings viewed evergreens as sacred trees. The Celts would decorate their druid temples with these trees as they believed they represented everlasting life while the Vikings believed they represented their God Balder (light and peace). The modern, Christian version of the Christmas tree began in Germany. It is traditionally said that Martin Luther was the first to decorate a Christmas tree by lighting a candle and placing it in the branches. It is said he wanted to share the beauty of this with his family so he cut down the tree and brought it home to continue to decorate with candles. By 1605, most German families had trees set up in their parlors.

Though Victoria and Albert did not begin the Christmas Tree tradition they had an important role in the spread. From England the tradition would move on to America and expand into using lights and special ornaments to make the tree shine. I personally love the tradition and am excited to one day create my own.

 

Happy Holidays!

Let me know if you get any new books regarding history topics! I am always interested in learning new facts and finding new authors.

Sources:

https://www.zmescience.com/science/history-science/origin-christmas-tree-pagan/

http://news.bbc.co.uk/local/berkshire/hi/people_and_places/history/newsid_9286000/9286971.stm

http://www.thamesweb.co.uk/christmas/christmas_tree.html

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