The evergreen fir tree has been used to celebrate winter festivals (pagan and Christian) for thousands of years. Pagans used branches of it to decorate their homes during the winter solstice. The Romans used fir trees to decorate their temples at the festival of Saturnalia. Christians use it as a sign of everlasting life with God. The evergreens served as a reminder that winter would, pass and the land again would be fruitful.
Legend has it that Martin Luther began the tradition of decorating trees to celebrate Christmas. One crisp Christmas Eve, about the year 1500, he was walking through snow-covered woods and was struck by the beauty of a group of small evergreens. Their branches, dusted with snow, shimmered in the moonlight. When he got home, he set up a little fir tree indoors so he could share this story with his children. He decorated it with candles, which he lighted in honour of Christ’s birth.
The tradition of the indoor evergreen was so strong in Germany, it’s believed that the first use of Christmas trees by Christians, developed there. In 1841, Prince Albert (originally from Germany), husband of Queen Victoria, set up a Christmas tree at Windsor Castle in England. From the royal court, the custom of Christmas trees spread quickly to the middle class and then to working people. For Victorians, a good Christmas tree had to be six branches tall and be placed on a table covered with a white damask tablecloth. It was decorated with garlands, sweets and paper flowers.
Many towns and villages have their own Christmas trees. In some cases the trees represent special commemorative gifts, such as in Trafalgar Square in London, where the City of Oslo, Norway presents a tree to the people of London as a token of appreciation for the British support of Norwegian resistance during the Second World War.
‘The Christmas Tree’ extract was published by permission of the Denbighshire Free Press. Back copies of the Denbighshire Free Press are available to view at Denbighshire Archives, for more information please visit our website.
Christmas closure 2014
We will be closed from 12.30pm on Wednesday 24th December 2014 and will re-open at 1.30pm on Wednesday 7th January 2015 with our new opening hours.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from Denbighshire Archives!