Why do we have Christmas trees?


The roots of why we put up trees in our living room and decorate them with trimmings stems from old pagan rituals and not from Christianity. German pagans used to decorate their houses with evergreen conifer tree branches during the winter solstice to remind them of the Spring to come.

The Ancient Romans also used to decorate their temples during the winter solstice at the festival of Saturnalia (the Roman predecessor to Christmas) with branches of fir trees. As they have green needles all year round, evergreen trees were used in multiple old religions around the world to symbolise eternal life including ancient Egyptians, the Chinese and Hebrews.

In the Middle Ages, Germans and Scandinavians placed evergreen trees inside their homes or just outside their doors to show their hope in the forthcoming spring, our modern Christmas tree evolved from these early traditions.

With the rise of Christianity in the middle ages, the followers of the religion absorbed this tradition from the pagans, relating the evergreen trees to their own winter festival of the birth of Jesus Christ, the legend grew that “When Christ was born in the dead of winter, every tree throughout the world miraculously shook off its ice and snow and produced new shoots of green.” Christians use the evergreen tree as a sign of everlasting life with God.

In the 18th Century, Christmas trees were decorated with candles to symbolise the stars in the night sky at the birth of Jesus Christ, however these were replaced with the invention of electric lights in 1880. Christians would also decorate their Christmas trees with apples to symbolise the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, modern trees have replaced these with decorative baubles made of glass or plastic. Overtime other decorations such as nuts and wafers were added. Tinsel was invented in Germany in the 1600s and was originally made of out strands of silver, it was used to enhance the flickering of the candles on the tree.

It wasn’t until the Christmas of 1848 that the Christmas tree became popular in Britain, as the monarch at the time, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were pictured in the London newspapers in front of a decorated evergreen conifer tree imported from Prince Albert’s native country of Germany where the tradition was already in place. The British public enjoyed the tree so much the idea caught on and spread throughout the population.

prince albert tree
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, The Illustrated London News, 1948

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