History of the Christmas tree
Whether you prefer the real thing or are content to reassemble and dust down an artificial one that has lingered in the loft for twelve months, a tree has become an accepted icon of Christmas. In Britain, those of us who succumb to the temptation to bring a sense of the forest into our homes owe this desire to the Royal Family who brought the tradition from Germany in the early nineteenth century. Respectability was ensured in 1841 when Queen Victoria and Prince Albert erected a Christmas tree in Windsor Castle and widespread popularity followed with the writings of Charles Dickens - who can forget A Christmas Carol?
But the use of evergreens to decorate homes at midwinter originates from pagan times when, throughout northern Europe, branches were cut and displayed as a symbol that the sun would return. The early Christian church tried to forbid such symbols but found that a more successful strategy was to embrace or find substitutes for these traditions and festivals. In Germany in the eighth century, a decorated fir was used to pay homage to Christ, as an alternative to making sacrifices to the sacred oak. This was possibly the first Christian Christmas tree.
Cut and decorated evergreen trees were used by the church in Germany throughout mediaeval times to symbolise both the tree of life and, in plays, the Garden of Eden. During the sixteenth century Reformation an evergreen tree illuminated with candles became symbolic of newborn hope. From here the tradition spread throughout northern Europe and had reached America by the nineteenth century with German immigrants. The USA has subsequently become a world leader in the production of high quality Christmas trees and is setting the trend for methods of intensive plantation management in Britain.