The History of the Christmas Tree

Author
City Information Centre

   Two years ago, the City of London’s biggest Christmas Tree was lit at Aldgate Square during the Aldgate Lantern Parade and Winter Fete. Although it had space for 35,000 lights it could not rival the massive Norwegian spruce at Trafalgar Square, an annual gift from the people of Norway to show their gratitude for Britain’s support during World War II. This tradition is going back to 1947 and the tree is usually over 20 metres high and 50-60 years old.
 
 But why do we put up Christmas Trees at all? Nobody is sure when fir trees were first used at Christmas. Many early Christmas Trees seem to have been dangling upside down from the ceiling using chains (hung from chandeliers/lighting hooks). And I thought an upside-down Christmas Tree was the hot new trend for 2017 as seen at the Claridge’s Hotel, designed by the late Karl Lagerfeld.
 
 The first documented use of a tree in a town square at Christmas and New Year celebrations is argued between the cities of Tallinn (1441) and Riga (1510). The first person to bring a Christmas Tree into a house though may have been the 16th century German preacher Martin Luther. There are lots of other legends and somehow most of them seem to have a connection with Germany.

A black and white illustration of a young family gathered around a lit christmas tree with hanging ornaments and an angel atop. The children all wear 1800's large skirted dresses, as does the two women pictured. The man wears a three piece suit with a white waist coat and ruffled collar.
The First Christmas Tree in Britain, Illustrated in 1846 © Wikipedia Commons


 The first Christmas Tree in the UK might well have been set up by Queen Charlotte, the German wife of King George III. In 1800 she had a tree at the Queen’s Lodge in Windsor for a children's party for rich and noble families. This soon became popular amongst some wealthy families. In 1846, a drawing of "The Queen's Christmas Tree at Windsor Castle" was published in the Illustrated London News. It showed Queen Victoria, her German Husband Prince Albert and their young children around a small tree which was set up on a table. The drawing was republished in Godey's Lady's Book, Philadelphia in December 1850 (but they removed the Queen's crown and Prince Albert's moustache to make it look more 'American'!). This drawing helped Christmas Trees become popular in the UK and USA.