Fir trees have been a festive tradition for thousands of years, since the Ancient Romans first used them to decorate their temples during Saturnalia – the pagan winter solstice festival. The evergreen tree was said to symbolise new life.
With the onset of Christianity, the fir tree took on new significance, as its use extended to Christmas and celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. The Christmas tree was first documented as being used in northern Europe, but perhaps rather oddly, they were often hung upside down from the ceiling on hooks.
Victorian Christmas tree
In Germany, early Christmas trees had items of food hung from their branches, such as apples and gingerbread. Originally, a figurine of baby Jesus was put on the top of the tree.
Over the years, it changed to an angel, in light of the fact that an angel is said to have told the Shepherds about Jesus’s birth. A star was also used to symbolise the star that led the three wise men to Bethlehem.
Christmas trees first arrived in Britain during the 1830s. Their popularity surged after Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, erected a Christmas tree in Windsor. The prince, who was German, had it decorated in a style that was reminiscent of the Christmas trees of his childhood.
Candles that represented stars were the most popular decoration for Victorian Christmas trees. Tinsel was also first made in Germany, where it was manufactured from silver that was cut into strips and beaten. This was later replaced by tinsel made from plastic and other modern materials.
Prince Albert wrote to his father telling him, “Today, I have two children of my own … they are full of happy wonder at the German Christmas tree and its radiant candles.”
Mainly due to the royal family’s influence, it became Victorian Christmas tradition across England to have a large Christmas tree decorated with lighted candles, fancy cakes and candies, which were hung from the branches by ribbon and paper chains.
Most families bought their Christmas tree in advance and carried it home from the hillsides several days before Christmas Eve. The trees came in all sizes, but the bigger ones of a majestic height were found only in the homes of the rich, where they touched the lofty ceilings.
A tree of medium size was usually placed in a tub filled in with stones, to keep it steady and weighted down. Small Christmas trees were usually fixed to a board, often with a carpet of moss to represent grass.
Sometimes, the children would fashion a miniature landscape of paper at the tree’s base, adding minerals, toy animals, shells and other materials to make a realistic landscape. A mirror, or silver foil, would be used to depict a river or lake.
Christmas tree lights were first used in the 1880s and it was said that inventor Thomas Edison started the trend by using his new electric light bulbs. The Edison company produced a brochure offering lighting for Christmas, but tree lights were very costly in those days and they weren’t something that ordinary working-class families could afford.
Benefits of real tree
In Victorian days, everyone had a real Christmas tree, as it was long before the mass-produced plastic variety went on the market. Today, many people still prefer the benefits of a real tree.
Picking the perfect tree is fun for all the family, as you can stroll round a yard of beautiful trees, seeing them in their outdoor natural setting before making your choice.
According to the British Christmas Tree Growers’ Association, around six million real trees are bought each year and choosing the tree becomes a memorable family event. There’s also nothing like the pine aroma of a fir tree to make you think of Christmas.
A 2007 study by scientists at Japan’s Kyoto University revealed the smell of pine needles can combat stress, anxiety and depression. Around 500 volunteers were sent on two 15-minute walks through a pine forest one day – they didn’t go on the walk the following day. The volunteers’ moods were much more cheerful when they had walked through the forest.
O Christmas Tree!
Decorating a real tree is so much more fun. Plastic trees are a regimented shape and have gaps between the branches that test your decorating skills. A real tree is a natural shape that doesn’t follow the same rules as plastic, so it lets your creative skills run free, making the end result more satisfying.
The fir tree is so popular at Christmas that there has even been a famous song written about it. O Christmas Tree, sung here by Aretha Franklin, originally dates from the early 19th century.
The German poet and composer Ernst Anschutz wrote the festive lyrics in 1824, set to the music of a traditional old folk song written by composer Melchior Franck in the 16th century. The song became a Christmas carol as the custom of the tree grew throughout the 19th century.
Today, there are many versions of the song all over the world. As well as being recorded by soul icon Aretha Franklin, it has even been sung by punk singer Billy Idol!
Once Christmas is over, the beauty of a real tree is that it can be recycled responsibly, meaning it has less environmental impact than a plastic tree. They can be shredded into chippings and these are often used in local parks and woodland areas.
The council will usually arrange drop-off points for fir trees in early January, so check your local authority’s website to find out more about the recycling facilities in your area.
How to get your tree home
If you’re planning to buy a real Christmas tree this year, you’ll need reliable transport to take it home, especially if it’s a larger tree. Driveline provides van and truck rental services, with vehicles of all sizes – so you can have the tree of your dreams!
Please contact us for further details.
The Driveline team would like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!