O Christmas Tree

As we gather with those closest to us under the decorated conifer in our homes, let us pay a small homage to the tree: a living organism that gives us oxygen, shade, beauty and which sustains life on this planet. But Christmas has not always been about trees, in fact for the last 2000 years the tree has been around for a quarter of that time, and mostly in the last 100 years.

A living Christmas tree

A living Christmas tree

Some early evidence points to Livonia, now present day Latvia and Estonia, where in the 15th and 16th centuries trees were decorated with sweets in guildhalls for children who would collect them on Christmas Day. After the Protestant Reformation there was a transition from the guildhall to the family home and this tradition became popular in Germany in the 18th and 19th centuries. In the 19th century the tradition was further adopted by European nobility, and came into Britain through the union with Hanover.

The annual Christmas tree on the White House Lawn

The annual Christmas tree on the White House Lawn

German troops in Canada brought the tradition to the North American continent in the late 18th century and it continued to grow in the US in the 19th century in those cities with German immigrants. Russian children were not so lucky, and the tree was banned after the October revolution in 1917, but reinstated in 1935 with the Red Star replacing the Star of Bethlehem on top of the tree. Christmas trees then became more public in the 20th century, in department stores , the South Lawn of the White House, the Vatican City and in many major squares of cities.

Spruces, firs and pines are most commonly used e.g. Picea abies, Abies nordmanniana, Pseudotsuga menziesii, Abies fraseri, Pinus pinea. Today these are commercially grown on farms and cut after about 10 years of growth. Some are possible in containers with their roots, but the indoor atmosphere of the home generally brings them out of their dormancy, and so replanting back into the cold results in a poor survival rate.

A Christmas tree farm

A Christmas tree farm

Most trees will end up on the garbage tip or left horizontal on the pavement, suffering a New Year hangover. While it is a symbol of festivity, family gatherings and cultural tradition let it also be a gentle reminder of the Tree, and what it provides us humans.

May you all have a Merry Christmas!

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