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History of the Christmas Tree
You may wonder how the concept of a decorated Christmas tree came about? There are many elements throughout history that have contributed to the history of this festive essential.
In the 7th century a monk Devon, went to Germany teaching the Word of God. He did great work there and legend has it that he used the triangular shape of the Fir Tree to describe the Holy Trinity of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The converted people began to revere the Fir tree as God's Tree, as they had previously revered the Oak. By the 12th century it was being hung, upside-down, from ceilings at Christmastime in Central Europe, as a symbol of Christianity. The rebirth of the upside-down Christmas tree seen in the last couple of years reflects this part of history.
The first decorated tree was in Latvia, in 1510. In the early 16th century, Martin Luther was walking home through the woods on a beautiful clear night. He gazed at the sky in a moment of meditation and the smell of the surrounding pine trees reminded him of incense and the peaceful whisper of the wind reminded him of prayer. From where he stood it was as if thousands of stars had settled on the braches of these trees. He is said to have taken a small tree home and decorated it with candles, to show his children how the stars twinkled through the dark night. The glittering Christmas Tree became a tradition for his family at Christmas time.
Tinsel was invented in Germany around 1610. At that time real silver was used, and machines were invented which pulled the silver out into the wafer thin strips for tinsel. Silver was durable, but tarnished quickly, especially with candlelight. Attempts were made to use a mixture of lead and tin, but this was heavy and tended to break under its own weight so was not so practical. So silver was used for tinsel right up to the mid-20th century.
In the mid 16th century, Christmas markets were set up in German towns, to provide everything from gifts, food and more practical things such as a knife grinder to sharpen the knife to carve the Christmas Goose! At these fairs, bakers made shaped gingerbreads and wax ornaments for people to buy as souvenirs of the fair, and take home to hang on their Christmas Trees.
The best record we have is that of a visitor to Strasbourg in 1601. He records a tree decorated with "wafers and golden sugar-twists (Barleysugar) and paper flowers of all colours". The early trees were biblically symbolic of the Paradise Tree in the Garden of Eden. The many food items were symbols of Plenty, the flowers, originally only red (for Knowledge) and White (for Innocence).
German markets are still popular Christmas Traditions today along with the concept of candy canes as a traditional Christmas tree decoration.
Christmas Trees in England
Much of the Christmas tree history is routed in Baltic Europe. As such the idea did not really take off in England until the reign of Queen Victoria. In 1846 Queen Victoria and her German Prince, Albert, were illustrated in the news standing with their children around a Christmas Tree. Victoria was a very popular monarch, and what was done at Court immediately became fashionable – not only in Britain, but in America too. The English Christmas Tree had arrived!