Saturday, December 23, 2017

Christmas Firsts #23 : Christmas Tree

Christmas Trees 2017 , Civic Park, Newcastle NSW - Photo by Naomi Trute 
So close to Christmas  I  must include the ‘tree’ in this list of Christmas firsts. There may be some debate over the exact location  and date of the FIRST Christmas tree but I think it has been narrowed down to northern Europe ( Estonia/Latvia) in the 15th to 16th century.   Legend suggests that the first tree decorated with paper flowers was burnt after a ceremony celebrating a mixture of pagan and Christian customs  in 1510  in Riga , Latvia. 
 Other early appearances of indoor Christmas trees have been recorded In Germany…

Martin Luther, the religious reformer, invented the Christmas tree. One winter’s night in 1536, so the story goes, Luther was walking through a pine forest near his home in Wittenberg when he suddenly looked up and saw thousands of stars glinting jewel-like among the branches of the trees. This wondrous sight inspired him to set up a candle-lit fir tree in his house that Christmas to remind his children of the starry heavens from whence their Saviour came.

In other parts of Germany, it became a custom to favour a yew branch instead of a fir tree brought into the house and decorated at Christmas . It was this custom that Queen Charlotte brought to England when she married  King George III in 1800.
Yew branch 
Here is a description of Queen Charlotte's tree as written by her biographer... 'from the branches of which hung bunches of sweetmeats, almonds and raisins in papers, fruits and toys, most tastefully arranged; the whole illuminated by small wax candles’. He adds that ‘after the company had walked round and admired the tree, each child obtained a portion of the sweets it bore, together with a toy, and then all returned home quite delighted’.

Most know that Prince Albert has been credited with making the Christmas tree popular and certainly from 1840, England’s newspapers were beginning to describe in great detail the decorations on the royal Christmas tree. An illustration of the Prince and Queen Victoria and their children gathered around a Christmas tree in 1846 sealed the place of the decorated tree in Christmas tradition at least for upper and middle class families of the time. 

London Illustrtaed News - Queen Victoria , Prince Albert and family. 
In USA,   a similar story of  the Christmas tree's popularity began in 1889 with President  and First Lady's Harrison's  White House tree decorated  with candles and toys for grandchildren.   Another first  indoor Christmas tree has also been claimed by President Franklin Pierce, but the Harrisons like Albert's and Victoria's popularised the tradition.  


 And the rest is history…. from modestly decorated branches to large conifers, sparkling with candles and special treats to nowadays  with  contemporary LED light trees  and faux  trees.

 My Rotary Club has organised for about 30 years a Tree of Joy in our community - a tree where people may leave gifts for the underprivileged, homeless and for anyone for whom Christmas might not be a happy time. I think this has been a great variation of a shared  community Christmas tree and perhaps a little sadly, the number of gifts requested by community organisations has increased  a lot since that first Tree of Joy decades ago 
 Chrsitmas trees  started 6 centuries ago, so let's continue to celebrate the symbolism of the evergreen Christmas tree - hope and renewal of life. 
Steven Dohanos - Chrsismas Tree in Town Square 

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