Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The History of Christmas Trees

The Christmas Tree, less commonly known as a Yule Tree, is one of the most popular traditions associated with the celebration of the Yuletide (otherwise known as Christmas).
Despite being associated with a Christian festival, many have made the claim that the tradition's origins are pre-Christian, originating in the ancient paganism of Europe. The tradition can be definitively dated to 16th century Germany, and it was popularized across the western world in the 18th and 19th centuries.

In 1539, a German church record mentions the erection of a Christmas tree. A small fir was decorated with apples, nuts, dates, pretzels and paper flowers.
By the early 18th century, the custom had become common in towns of the upper Rhineland, but it had not yet spread to rural areas. Wax candles are attested as decorations beginning in the late 18th century.

In the early 19th century, the custom became popular among the nobility and spread to royal courts as far as Russia. In France, the first Christmas tree was introduced in 1840.

In Britain, Queen Victoria as a child was familiar with the custom. In her journal for Christmas Eve 1832, the delighted 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...".
A woodcut of the royal family with their Christmas tree at Osborne House, initially published in the Illustrated London News in December 1848, was copied in the U.S. at Christmas in 1850. Such patriotic prints of the British royal family at Christmas celebrations helped popularize the Christmas tree in Britain and among the Anglophile American upper class.
Several cities in the United States with German connections lay claim to that country's first Christmas tree. Windsor Locks, CT, claims that a Hessian soldier put up a Christmas tree in 1777 while imprisoned at the Noden-Reed House, while the "First Christmas Tree in America" is also claimed by Easton, Pennsylvania, where German settlers purportedly erected a Christmas tree in 1816.
Both setting up and taking down a Christmas tree are associated with specific dates. In Europe, when the practice of setting up evergreen trees originated in pagan times, the practice was associated with the Winter Solstice, around December 21. Tree decoration was later adopted into Christian practice after the Church set December 25 as the birth of Christ, thereby supplanting the pagan celebration of the solstice.

Traditionally, Christmas trees were not brought in and decorated until Christmas Eve, and then removed the day after twelfth night (January 6th); to have a tree up before or after these dates was even considered bad luck. Some traditions suggest that Christmas trees may be kept up until no later than the 2nd of February, the feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, when the Christmas season effectively closes.

These are the Christmas Trees of Rebecca Lane for 2008.