The winter solstice (also known as Yule) marks the shortest day and longest night of the year and typically falls on 21st December. Long before the advent of Christianity, the Celts, Gaels, Picts, Scots and other peoples of pagan Britain decorated their homes with wreaths made from evergreen plants including holly, mistletoe and yew as part of the winter solstice festival celebrations. Evergreen plants were believed to keep away evil spirits and also symbolised fertility and new life.
The First Christmas Tree
Martin Luther (1483 to 1546), the German theologian, philosopher and protestant reformist, is widely credited with being the first person to bring a tree (rather than a wreath) into the house at Christmas and decorate it in a way we would recognise today.
The First Christmas Trees in Britain
The first Christmas trees in Britain are associated with the Hanoverian Kings of England (1714 to 1837) who imported the tradition from their native Germany.
The great British public were not enamoured with the German Monarchy and thus did not copy the fashions at the Royal Court at the time.
The Victoria and Albert Christmas Tree
In December 1848 the Illustrated London News published an engraving showing Victoria and Albert gathered around the family Christmas tree with their children.
Unlike the Hanoverian Kings, Victoria was very popular with the public and so began the tradition of the Christmas tree in Britain.
The 20th Century Christmas Tree
During WWII it was prohibited to cut trees down for decoration and the small artificial tabletop tree became popular. Large trees were erected in public places to boost the nations morale.
Post-war Britain saw the revival of the real Christmas tree.
The 1960s promised a brave new world and modernist ideas were everywhere; silver aluminium trees were imported from America. The popular ‘Silver Pine’ was designed with a revolving light in the base which shone out through coloured gelatine windows. Groovy!
The 21st Century Christmas Tree
The Norway spruce remains the nation’s favourite real Christmas tree with Fraser, Noble and Nordman fir becoming increasingly popular perhaps because of their symmetrical shape, soft needles and good needle retention. Real trees continue to be popular but many homes opt for one of the ever increasing selection of artificial trees.