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Why Do We Put Up Christmas Trees?

Christmas trees are a ubiquitous part of the holiday season. But have you ever wondered why?



Photo: Pixabay

You all know the drill. Summer has ended, you’re barely out of your jorts and into your onesies, and Noddy Holder comes out of nowhere and knocks you sideways. Yes, it’s Christmaaaas! In September. Sure, the shops have already got Now That’s What I Call Christmas playing on a loop, but you know in your heart that it’s not really Christmas. Not yet. Noddy Holder is a liar. “Bing can keep dreaming“, you think to yourself. “Because Christmas is ages away”. You’re a witty guy.

Everyone knows it’s not really Christmas until you put your Christmas tree up. Most of us do that some time around late November or early December. Every year, we drag dead trees into our homes and bling them up like B.A. Baracus, all to honour the birth of Baby Jesus.

Why do we do that? What’s the significance? Did the wise men actually bring gold, frankincense and fir? What is myrrh anyway? Did someone inhale just a little too much frankincense smoke and slur their words? Are we asking too many questions?

Photo: 123FreeVectors

Trust no one

Evergreen plants have been celebrated as a symbol of eternal life by various cultures over the centuries, particularly in connection with the winter solstice. The ancient Egyptians, Romans and Celts all decorated their homes or temples with evergreen plants as part of their religious observances.

The Christmas tree as we know it originated in Renaissance Era Germany. Representing both the Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life from the Garden of Eden, the ‘Paradise Tree’ was displayed in German homes in observance of the ‘feast day’ of Adam and Eve on 24 December.

The Germans also set up ‘Christmas Pyramids‘, which were made out of wood and decorated with evergreens, candles and Christmas ornaments. Over time, the Christmas Pyramid and the Paradise Tree merged to become the Christmas Tree that we all know and love today.

The Christmas Tree was introduced to Great Britain at the beginning of the nineteenth century by the German-born Queen Charlotte, wife of King George III. However, the tradition did not take off until later in the century, when a sketch of Queen Victoria and her German-born husband, Prince Albert, appeared on the front page of The Illustrated London News, picturing the popular royal couple standing around a Christmas Tree alongside their children.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Victoria and Albert were the Beyoncé and Jay Z of their day

The sketch of the young Queen and her family was later republished for an American audience in Godey’s Lady’s Book. According to folk-culture historian, Alfred Lewis Shoemaker: “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 Christmas tree became a traditional part of the American Christmas within 20 years of the picture’s publication.

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Chris is a pop culture nerd from London. He has a master's degree in Criminology and a pretty solid Pokémon card collection. His favourite Star Wars character is Jar Jar Binks, because he likes an underdog.

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