History in the Making

History Bite: The Tradition of Christmas Trees?

Welcome to History Bites! On Wednesdays I will be sharing a quick bite of history- it could be a person, a place, an event, or something that quickly peaks your interest. My hope is to make history more accessible, and feel a little bit less like a textbook. (Not everything is a 30 years war needing wading through…) Today’s history bite is all about the tradition of Christmas trees in our homes and how it came to be…

A Tradition of Christmas Trees

Trees, plants, and greenery have always played a role in winter celebrations. We bring greenery into our homes and living spaces to remind ourselves that everything will not stay dead and cold forever! The Winter Solstice is largely about plants, and homes are adorned to celebrate the rebirth that will come. Fast forward a couple thousand years, and we have Christmas trees sweeping across European homes. If you have heard any bit of Christmas history, you’ve probably heard, “We have Christmas trees because of Prince Albert!”. Well, Albert can’t take credit for everything…

Ravenclaw Christmas Tree

Yes, Prince Albert cemented German Christmas traditions in the British Royal Family (that continue today, post coming soon), and by extension, English society. However, he didn’t introduce Christmas trees to the English. Queen Victoria’s grandmother, Queen Charlotte (wife to George III), kept a decorated Yew tree at Windsor Castle in the year 1800! Albert can be given credit for a lot of things, but this honour belongs elsewhere- thank you to Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz! So, when you light up your Christmas tree, hang up an ornament for Queen Charlotte…

Decorated Christmas tree

*This interesting fact can be found in Lucy Worsley’s Queen Victoria: Daughter, Wife, Mother, Widow, an absolutely fascinating book that will be out in January. My review will be coming soon!

What do you know about the tradition of Christmas trees?

The Historian
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4 thoughts on “History Bite: The Tradition of Christmas Trees?”

  • Cool! I always thought Christmas trees evolved from the Christians converting the pagans. I (perhaps mistakenly) thought the pagans decorated trees for Winter Soltice, and the Christians let them keep this tradition as they started celebrating Christmas, and then the tradition just became part of Christmas. I’ve been told so many times “You have a pagan symbol in your Christmas decor.” Sigh. But I have no idea if that’s actually true! 🙂 And, I don’t mind if it is. I absolutely adore Christmas trees; it’s not the season without one. Even when we were moving house, we put up a little 1-foot high tree, just to have something up.

    However, the Big Questions is: colored lights or white lights??? 😉 (Colored all the way, for me!)

    • If I’m remembering the first few weeks from my history of Christmas class, the Greeks and Romans tended to have branches of shrubs rather than an actual coniferous tree in their house. The greenery in general is definitely pagan in origin, but the tree specifically? I don’t think so!

      I’m a coloured lights girl myself 🙂 I use white lights at work in my cubicle because the reflection is too irritating on my screen with coloured lights haha! However, my bedframe has coloured lights wrapped around it all year, and all of our trees have coloured lights!!

  • Do you have a real or fake Christmas tree? I love the smell and look of a real tree. We always had fake ones when I was little but since I met my husband we’ve had a real one every year (except last year when we moved house the week before Christmas and so did not decorate).

    • I have only ever had real Christmas trees at home!! Once I move into an apartment sometime in the spring, I don’t know if I will be allowed to 🙁 But the smell makes me SO happy!! And going to cut it down is the best holiday experience. Are you able to decorate this year??

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