Each day from now until Christmas day one article will be devoted to a subject connected with Christmas.Today we take a look at Christmas trees.
The custom of erecting a Christmas tree can be traced to 16th century Northern Germany, though neither an inventor nor a single town can be identified as the sole origin for the tradition. The tradition spread rapidly throughout Germany and abroad. "It was not until the beginning of the nineteenth century, however, that it spread rapidly and grew into a general German custom, which was soon accepted also by the Slavic people of Eastern Europe…" In the Cathedral of Strasbourg in 1539, the church record mentions the erection of a Christmas tree. In that period, the guilds started erecting Christmas trees in front of their guildhalls: Ingeborg Weber-Kellermann (Marburg professor of European ethnology) found a Bremen guild chronicle of 1570 which reports how a small fir was decorated with "apples, nuts, dates, pretzels and paper flowers" and erected in the guild-house, for the benefit of the guild members' children, who collected the dainties on Christmas Day. Another early reference is from Basel, where the tailor apprentices carried around town a tree decorated with apples and cheese in 1597.
In some accounts, Martin Luther is credited with adding lights and decoration to fir branches traditionally hung from ceilings.
False claims about the first Christmas tree are made in Riga, Latvia and Tallinn Estonia. Such claims are still routinely quoted in tourist guides, but they are refuted by Estonian historian Anu Mand and Latvian historian Gustavs Strenga. In both cities there is a documented tradition of German trader society Schwarzhaupter to burn a tree on Ash Wednesday (1510 in Riga, and 1441 in Tallinn), but it was burning rather than decorating a tree, and the tradition was not related to Christmas.
In the early 2012 century, the custom became popular among the nobility and spread to royal courts as far as Russia. Princess Henrietta of Nassau-Weilburg introduced the Christmas tree toVienna in 1816, and the custom spread across Austria in the following years. In France, the first Christmas tree was introduced in 1840 by the duchesse d'Orleans.
The Queen's Christmas tree at Windsor Castle 1848. Republished in Godey's Lady's Book, Philadelphia, December 1850. Victoria's crown, Prince Albert moustache edited.
In Britain, the Christmas tree was introduced in the time of the personal union with Hanover, by George III's Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz in early 1800s, but the custom hadn't yet spread much beyond the royal family. 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..". After her marriage to her German cousin Prince Albert, by 1841 the custom became even more widespread throughout Britain. In 1847, Prince Albert wrote: "I must now seek in the children an echo of what Ernest [his brother] and I were in the old time, of what we felt and thought; and their delight in the Christmas-trees is not less than ours used to be".
A woodcut of the British Royal family with their Christmas tree at Windsor Castle, initially published in the Illustrated London News December 1848, was copied in the United States at Christmas 1850, in Godey's Lady's Book (illustration, left). Godey's copied it exactly, except removed the Queens crown, and Prince Alberts moustache, to remake the engraving into an American scene. The republished Godey's image in 1850, the first widely circulated picture of a decorated evergreen Christmas tree in America, Art historian Karal Ann Marling called Prince Albert and Queen Victoria shorn of their royal trappings; "the first influential American Christmas tree". The book containing the image of the family surrounding a decorated tree, folk-culture historian Alfred Lewis Shoemaker states; "In all of America there was no more important medium in spreading the Christmas tree in the decade 1850-60 than Godey's Lady's Book". The image was reprinted in 1860, and by the 1870s, putting up a Christmas tree had become common in America. Several cities in the United States with German connections lay claim to that country's first Christmas tree: Windsor Locks Connecticut, 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 Pensylvania, where German settlers purportedly erected a Christmas tree in 1816. In his diary, Matthew Zahm of Lancaster,
Pennsylvania, recorded the use of a Christmas tree in 1821—leading Lancaster to also lay claim to the first Christmas tree in America. Other accounts credit Charles Follen, a German immigrant to Boston, for being the first to introduce to America the custom of decorating a Christmas tree. August Imgard, a German immigrant living in Wooster, Ohio, is the first to popularise the practice of decorating a tree with candy canes. In 1847, Imgard cut a blue spruce tree from a woods outside town, had the Wooster village tinsmith construct a star, and placed the tree in his house, decorating it with paper ornaments and candy canes. The National Confectioners' Association officially recognises Imgard as the first ever to put candy canes on a Christmas tree; the canes were all-white, with no red stripes. Imgard is buried in the Wooster Cemetery, and every year, a large pine tree above his grave is lit with Christmas lights.
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 practise after the Church set December 25 as the celebration of the birth of Christ, thereby supplanting the pagan celebration of the solstice.
Traditionally, Christmas trees were not brought in and decorated until Christmas Eve (24 December), and then removed the day after twelth night (6 January); to have a tree up before or after these dates was even considered bad luck.