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How Christmas trees evolved

Towards the end of every year, much of our surroundings, our homes, offices, shops, restaurants and pubs are descended upon by the strange phenomena of a simple Spruce tree festooned with bright, shiny, sparkly and to be honest, sometimes gaudy objects and manifests itself as The Christmas Tree. This hugely diverse collection of decorated Christmas Trees make their annual appearance anytime from September on due to the pressures of commerce. These noble fir trees have been strategically placed into our lives for the entertainment of generations of children and adults alike for the last 500 odd years and have travelled a long road from humble beginnings to become the star of the show that we all know and love.

The first Christmas tree recorded was in the country we now know as Estonia. In the city of Tallin in 1441 a Spruce tree was erected by the somewhat unattractively named ‘Brotherhood of Blackheads’ in the square in front of the Town Hall for the festive season. Later on, the tradition of putting up Christmas trees for the young folk to sing and dance around became common practice, however once the festivities were over, the poor tree was then set alight! By 1570 the good people of Bremen, Germany were decorating Christmas trees with apples, nuts, dates, pretzels and paper flowers as gifts for the smaller children to collect on Christmas day.

Moving forward a couple of hundred years or so, to the late 18th Century, candles were starting to appear amongst the branches of Christmas trees, but the Christmas tree custom was still mainly confined to the Prussian Protestant families of the upper Rhineland region. However, the Christmas tree tradition was transported to Canada in 1781 by the Brunswick soldiers who were stationed in Quebec to ward off the unwanted advances of the Americans during the American Revolutionary War.

During the 18th Century Christmas trees became popular within the nobility of Europe with the first recorded Christmas trees arriving here in the UK with George III and his German wife Charlotte in the early 19th Century – no doubt in an attempt to keep their 13 children amused!

However, the tradition was still kept under royal wraps until a wood-cut (print) of Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and their children appeared in Godey’s Lady’s Book (a popular lady’s magazine in Philadelphia) in 1850, with the couple having been carefully ‘photo-shopped’ to remove Victoria’s tiara and Alberts moustache to make them more appealing to the American public. Astonishingly, within just 20 years of this publication, having a Christmas tree in one’s home in America was commonplace. From then on, the creative Americans took Christmas tree decorating to another level by adding candy canes, paper ornaments and even tin stars.

Nowadays, the humble little fir tree has turned into a fully grown Giant Redwood. They are no long a naked tree awaiting a fiery funeral in the town square, they are strategically positioned in public buildings, lofted high on street lamposts, in the corners of café’s, residing in restaurants and even dancing on the dashboards of delivery vans. These days, they come in all shapes, sizes and colours, some have colourful fibre optic needles, others come in lurid pinks and purples and some people have even turned the whole thing on it’s head, literally – and display them standing upside down!


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