History of the Christmas tree

At the beginning of December, we are officially on the Christmas countdown! With many people being swayed already into this festive whirlpool, how long we should wait before ‘give in’ and putting the Christmas tree up?

Have you ever thought how many trees have been cut each year just for Christmas and how this custom actually started?

Apparently Great Britain consumes about 8 million trees annually, and with about two-thirds of households opting for artificial trees, mostly exported from China, we explore the origins of Christmas tree.

It is believed that the early Christmas tree tradition started 1000 years ago in Northern Europe, where many early Christmas trees were hung upside down from the ceiling; looking like ‘green chandeliers’. In medieval Germany the tree was often paraded around the town to represent the Garden of Eden to invite people to the church. Also, in the town square of Riga, the capital of Latvia, there is a plaque which is engraved with "The First New Year's Tree in Riga in 1510", in eight languages.

The first Christmas Trees came to Britain sometime in the 1830s but they became very popular in 1841, when Prince Albert (Queen Victoria's German husband) had a Christmas tree put up in Windsor Castle. In 1848, the drawing of "The Queen's Christmas tree at Windsor Castle" was published in the Illustrated London News. The drawing was also republished in Godey's Lady's Book, Philadelphia in December 1850 (but they removed the Queen's crown and Prince Albert's moustache to make it look 'American'!). The publication of the drawing helped Christmas Trees become popular in the UK and USA.

The first Christmas trees were decorated with edible things, such as gingerbread and gold covered apples. Glass makers made special small ornaments similar to some of the decorations used today. In Victorian times, the tree would have been decorated with candles to represent stars. In the Edwardian period Christmas trees were made from coloured ostrich feathers.

Nowadays they can be decorated with lights, tinsel and baubles – and even some homemade decorations too!