The main symbol of the Christmas holidays, the decorated tree is a tradition dating back a long time, during the pagan celebrations of the winter solstice. But how did it become so essential? How was this custom born and developed?
After my article on the origins of Santa Claus, today here is a brief overview of the history of the Christmas tree.
What are the origins of the Christmas tree?
Long before the advent of Christianity, evergreen trees and plants (remaining green all year round) were used by many peoples during winter festivals, as part of pagan customs. These then hung them in houses, on doors and windows, as a decoration and symbol for the coming spring. For many cultures, they represented fertility, renewal and eternal life.
In northern Europe, the ancient Celts decorated their temples with these trees and plants. Further south, the Romans used it to adorn temples and houses during the Saturnalia, while the Egyptians used palm leaves to decorate their houses and honor the god Ra. The principle of the evergreen tree was also present among the Chinese and the Hebrews.
In the 11th century, firs were often adorned with red apples, thus symbolizing the Tree of Heaven.
But it was in Germany, in the 16th century, that the tradition of the Christmas tree as such was really born. Christians would then have started to place fir trees in their homes and decorate them with apples, sweets, cupcakes, nuts, etc. The star at the top of the tree referred to that of Bethlehem. Gradually, this custom spread to wealthy families in Europe. It was also brought back to the United States by German settlers.
Although Germany is the origin of our famous Christmas tree, it was actually popularized by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert (born in Germany) in the 19th century. Indeed, in 1848, a drawing published in the British magazine Illustrated London News showed the royal family around a Christmas tree. The English therefore followed suit, also setting out to adorn their homes with a decorated tree.
In France, in 1837, the Duchess of Orleans, who was of German origin, had a Christmas tree erected at the Tuileries. But it was especially with the arrival of Alsatian immigrants, around 1871, that the tradition of this tree spread to homes in France.
What about the Christmas tree today?
Today, during the holidays, the Christmas tree is a great classic for families from many countries of the world, of different faiths and cultures. The very emblem of Christmas, it mainly serves as a decoration without necessarily having a particular symbolism, except to symbolize the magic of this particular period of the year.
The gifts are generally placed at the foot of the tree, and opened on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.
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There is a wide range of different trees in both shape and size, ranging from natural trees to artificial models.
Most famous Christmas trees in the world?
In many large cities around the world, it is customary to present a gigantic illuminated Christmas tree as the Christmas holidays approach. All compete in beauty and are renewed every year, but some more than others enjoy a worldwide reputation.
In France, they have the famous Galeries Lafayette Christmas tree which never lacks creativity.
In the United States, in New York, the tree overlooking the Rockefeller Center ice rink is particularly prestigious and crowds jostle each November to witness its illumination.
In Portugal, Lisbon’s Commerce Square is adorned with a huge luminous Christmas tree nearly 70 m high.
In London, the UK, the Christmas star is indeed the big tree in the famous Trafalgar Square.
Without forgetting the firs of La Puerta Del Sol in Madrid, the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, the Rodrigo de Freitas lagoon in Rio de Janeiro, and the forecourt of the Vilnius Cathedral in Lithuania.