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The History of the Christmas Tree

For thousands of years, evergreen trees have been used to celebrate winter festivals, representing symbols of hope and life. Legends abound as to when fir trees were first used as Christmas trees, although they were hung upside down from ceilings in Northern Europe at least 1,000 years ago.

The East European cities of Tallinn and Riga both claim to be the first places to display Christmas trees in 1441 and 1510 respectively. Early pictures also depict a tree being paraded around the streets of Germany in 1521.

Rumour has it that in the 16th century, German Martin Luthor was the first to bring a Christmas tree into a home to use as decoration for the winter holiday period. Other tales tell of St. Boniface of Crediton in Devon, who fled to Germany to preach his religious beliefs. Whilst there, a cut-down oak tree grew into a fir from its roots. The preacher decorated the fir with candles, so he could continue with his work during the darker nights.

It’s widely recognised that the first Christmas trees arrived in the UK in the 1830s, when Prince Albert set up a Christmas tree in Windsor Castle. A drawing of the tree was illustrated in a newspaper, which helped to spread its appeal to the masses.

Early Christmas trees were decorated with edible items such as gold covered apples and/or gingerbread and a figure of baby Jesus normally took pride of place at top of the tree. It was very popular in Victorian times to decorate the tree with candles to represent the stars – this tradition continues in many parts of Europe today. To represent snow on the tree’s foliage, the first tinsel came from Germany in the form of silver strips.

As concerns grew for the candles catching everything ablaze, Christmas trees eventually started to be decorated with strings of lights. Early lights were developed by the Edison company in the 1880s, but the first commercially available lights weren’t widely obtainable for another 20 years.

As gift-giving moved from New Year to Christmas, presents were hung from the tree and included sweets, small trinkets, fruit and nuts. As gifts became bigger, these were then placed under the tree instead.

Another mainstay tradition that has stood the test of time, it’s thought the Christmas cracker was invented around 1845-1850 by a confectionery maker in London. Tom Smith liked the idea of making small sweets wrapped in paper with a riddle inside. Although these didn’t take off, he persisted with his creations and was inspired by the sparks of his log fire to add something to the sweets that would make a cracking noise when the wrappers were pulled in half. Originally called cosaques, the early crackers became a big hit, and themed crackers were later introduced.

HO, HO, HO! Nothing beats the smell of a freshly cut Christmas tree! Keep the time-honoured tradition alive and treat yourself to a real Christmas tree this year. Bigger is always better, so if you need a vehicle in which to collect your tree, why not consider hiring a van from H&H Van Hire?

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