“Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree, how lovely are your branches” (Aretha Franklin version) might be one of the songs you’ll sing along to at some point over the next month. The song has a traditional German folk background, which is thought to date back to the 16th century. The modern German lyrics were written by Ernst Anschütz in 1824 and refer to a ‘Tannenbaum' or fir tree in English.
Like the song, the tradition in Britain of bringing a living tree into the house (something my cats have now got used too) came from Germany and we can thank the Royals for that. The exact point at which the tradition arrived is however uncertain. During the 16th century German Christians would bring in to their homes and decorate an evergreen tree, whereas in Britain it had been normal for people to bring in a branch of holy or mistletoe, but not a tree. Apparently, Queen Charlotte, who was the wife of George III, used to bring in a yew tree at Christmas, but it is not known of this was the start of the trend.
Things changed when in 1848AD the Illustrated London News reported in detail and included a drawing on its cover of the Royal family around a Christmas tree at Windsor Castle. On Christmas eve, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert would bring the tree in themselves and decorate it with candles (sounds a fire hazard to me!) and gingerbread. Once decorated they would bring in the children.
The Royals at this time were trend setters and within 10 years the wealthy were copying them. By the 1850’s it was accepted as normal throughout the nation. Soon other nations around the world were hot on their heels. This was not without its problems, particularly in the absence of today’s electric lights. For example, in 1855 or 56 Caroline Luttrell from Somerset accidentally died after her dress caught fire as she lighting the candles on her tree!
Today Christmas trees are common in people’s homes throughout Britain and thankfully there are safer decorative options than candles! Our decorations have also expanded to include many wonderful colourful items and maybe a Lego train for the kids ...or AFOLS!
These scenes were built by James Pegrum; find out more by following us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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