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The History of the Christmas Tree

 

Why do we have a decorated Christmas Tree?

In the 7th century, a monk from Crediton, Devonshire, went to Germany to teach the Word of God. He did many good works there, and spent much time in Thuringia, an area which was to become the cradle of the Christmas decoration industry.

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 in Central Europe, the Fir tree was being hung upside-down, from ceilings at Christmas time as a symbol of Christianity.

The first decorated Christmas tree was at Riga in Latvia, in 1510. In the early 16th century, Martin Luther is said to have decorated a small Christmas Tree with candles, to show his children how the stars twinkled through the dark night.

The Victorian and Albert Tree


In 1846, the popular Royals, Queen Victoria and her German prince, Albert, were illustrated in the Illustrated London News. They were standing with their children around a Christmas Tree. Unlike the previous Royal family, Victoria was very popular with her subjects, and what was done at Court immediately became fashionable - not only in Britain, but with fashion-conscious East Coast American Society. The English Christmas Tree had arrived!

Decorations were still of a 'home-made' variety. Young ladies spent hours at Christmas crafts, quilling snowflakes and stars, sewing little pouches for secret gifts and weaving paper baskets with sugared almonds in them. Small bead decorations and fine drawn out silver tinsel came from Germany together with beautiful Angels to sit at the top of the tree. Candles were often placed into wooden hoops for safety.

Mid-Victorian Tree

In the 1850's, Lauscha began to produce fancy shaped glass bead garlands for the trees and short garlands made from necklace 'bugles' and beads. These were readily available in Germany but not produced in sufficient quantities to export to Britain. The Rauschgoldengel was a common sight. Literally, 'Tingled-angel', bought from the Thuringian Christmas markets, and dressed in pure gilded tin.

The 1860's English Tree had become more innovative than the delicate trees of earlier decades. Small toys were popularly hung on the branches, but still most gifts were placed on the table under the tree.

At the same time, the German tree was beginning to suffer from mass destruction! It had become the fashion to lop off the tip off a large tree to use as a Christmas Tree, which prevented the tree from growing further. Statutes were made to prevent people having more than one tree. And this German practice was never adopted in Great Britain.

America, being so large, tended to have 'pockets' of customs relating to the immigrants who had settled in a particular area, and it was not until the communications really got going in the 19th century, that such Christmas tree customs began to spread. Thus references to decorated trees in America before about the middle of the 19th century are very rare.

High Victorian Trees

The 1880's saw a rise of the Aesthetic Movement. At this time Christmas Trees became a glorious hotchpotch of everything one could cram on; or by complete contrast the aesthetic trees which were delicately balanced trees, with delicate colours, shapes and style. They also moved floor standing trees - the limited availability of decorations in earlier decades had kept trees for most people, table-top trees. Now with decorations as well as crafts more popular than ever, there was no excuse. Still a status symbol, the larger the tree - the more affluent the family which sported it.

The High Victorian of the 1890's was a child's joy to behold! As tall as the room, and crammed with glitter and tinsel and toys galore. Even the 'middle classes' managed to over-decorate their trees. It was a case of 'anything goes'. Everything that could possibly go on a tree went onto it.

By 1900 themed trees were popular. A colour theme set in ribbons or balls, a topical idea such as an Oriental Tree, or an Egyptian Tree. They were to be the last of the great Christmas Trees for some time. With the death of Victoria in 1901, the Nation went into mourning and fine trees were not really in evidence until the nostalgia of the Dickensian fashion of the 1930's.

         
 
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