Cracking Christmas Trees

November 15th, 2018

Can we mention the C word yet……….? We’ve been busy thinking about Christmas here at the Oakeley Arms – prepping the menus, organising the parties and of course, getting out all the decorations ready for another round of glitz, glitter and the ultimate in Christmas decorating – the humble tree!

The traditional Christmas tree is at the centre of most people’s festive decorating, and although the idea of lighting up trees has been around for hundreds of years, the decorated tree in homes, offices and towns is a relatively modern phenomenon.

The idea of an evergreen tree to symbolise eternal life dates as far back as the Ancient Egyptians, but the roots of the first decorated trees to appear at Christmas can be traced back to 16th century Germany when Christians brought trees into their houses and decorated them at the beginning of advent. Christian reformer Martin Luther is often credited with the idea of the very first Christmas tree when he put candles on an evergreen tree in his garden.

During the mid 1800s, the custom soon spread beyond Germany and across Europe, at least among the wealthy. In Russia, the first Christmas tree appeared in 1816, in France in 1840 and George III’s German born wife Charlotte is credited with its introduction to Britain around 1800. When Queen Victoria married the German born Albert, the custom took hold in royal palaces but for many years in Britain, the tradition didn’t spread outside of the Royal Family and aristocracy, mainly because of the expense. It cost a great fortune to cut down a tree, display it, light it with precious candles and decorate it with food and ornaments – something that was out of reach of most ordinary Victorian families.

By the 1840s however, Christmas trees began to appeal to wider audiences, and the middle classes soon embraced the idea, competing to outdo other families on the size and decoration of the trees. In 1848, the Illustrated London News ran a feature and pictures on the decorated trees outside Windsor Castle and so the tradition became widespread in wealthy families.

Image by Balazs Dudas on freeimages.com

By the turn of the twentieth century, the tradition had spread to public areas, with decorated trees appearing in churches, theatres, shops and even hospitals. After World War I their popularity dipped a little thanks to anti-German attitudes, but this didn’t last long, and by the 1930s the custom had spread to all classes.

Today, Christmas trees are commonplace and are found not just in homes, but also in offices, shops, pubs and restaurants across the country. And of course, Christmas trees aren’t just limited to indoor spaces – some of the largest and most beautiful trees are found in outside areas like town squares. The Trafalgar Square Christmas Tree in London is a great example of one of the oldest Christmas tree traditions in Britain – since 1947 an enormous tree is donated to the British public by the Norwegian city of Oslo every year, in order to express their gratitude for allegiances during the Second World War. The tree is usually over 20 metres tall and decorated with 500 white lights.

Traditionally, trees were decorated with candles and food, like apples, biscuits and dried fruit, but over the years, innovation has meant that dangerous candles have now been replaced with electric lights, and the most usual food to appear on a Christmas tree these days is chocolate or candy canes. Popular decorations today include baubles (glass or plastic), snowdrops, garlands, tinsel and bunting. Glass baubles were first created in Germany, but decorations were also made from clay and tin.

Of course, as well as real Christmas trees, today there are also a huge selection of realistic artificial trees that can be used year after year. However, if you are thinking of buying a real tree this year then it’s best to look for a reputable supplier of locally grown trees. You’ll find many options in garden centres and DIY shops, as well as special woodlands that only grow Christmas trees. In some areas you can even choose your own tree!