Christmas is fast approaching again! Interesting isn’t it that at the centre of this, the most prominent annual festive holiday, is a tree.
However, long before the advent of Christianity trees that remained green all year round had a special meaning for people in the winter. Just as people decorate their homes during the festive season with ever-green pines or fir trees, ancient people hung evergreen branches over their doors and windows. In many countries it was believed that evergreens would keep away witches, ghosts, evil spirits, and illness.
The evergreen fir tree has been used to celebrate winter festivals for thousands of years. In the Northern Hemisphere, the shortest day and longest night of the year falls on December 21 or December 22, and is called the winter solstice. Ancient people believed that the sun was a god and that winter came every year because the sun god had become sick. They celebrated the solstice because it meant that at last the sun god would begin to get well. Evergreen branches reminded them of all the green plants that would grow again when the sun god was strong and summer would return.
The Romans used fir trees to decorate their temples at the festival of Saturnalia. Christians use them as a sign of everlasting life of God.
In 1844, Hans Christian Andersen published the first Christmas tree fairytale, called The Fir-Tree, which recounted the fate of a fir-tree being used as a Christmas tree. Although the Christmas tree’s inception was in Germany, it was Britain who popularized it. In 1846, the popular royals, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, were sketched in the Illustrated London News standing with their children around a Christmas tree. The Christmas tree had arrived in the British Empire.
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