Colin Crosby Heritage Tours

Colin's Little Known Facts: Origins of the Christmas Tree

Without a doubt, one of the best loved aspects of Christmas is the Christmas Tree. But what are its origins? And is it really anything to do with this important Christian festival?

Christmas is when Christians celebrate the birth two thousand years ago of Jesus Christ. They believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and that his hideous death on the Cross redeemed humanity - that’s all of us - from sin.

Over the centuries, many traditions have been added to Christmas, and the Christmas Tree is one of them.

Being an evergreen tree, the fir was sacred to many early religions, including the pre-Christian one in Britain as well as the influential Norse beliefs. Evergreens, which did not apparently die in the Winter, were a fairly logical early object of admiration and ultimately worship.

According to tradition, the fir became associated with Christianity due to the missionary work of St. Boniface. Born at Crediton in Devon and originally named Winfrith, Boniface spent years in Germany converting many to the Christian faith.

It is said that one day he was walking in the forest when he came upon a group of pagans about to sacrifice a little boy, under a sacred oak tree. Remonstrating with them, he said he would prove his own God’s superiority over theirs, and proceeded to chop down the mighty oak.

They were pretty impressed, not least probably by his nerve! Anyway, down in the roots of the oak was found a little fir tree, which Boniface blessed and foretold that it would thenceforth be regarded as a Christian tree.

Martin Luther, one of the great figures of the Reformation, is said to have been walking in the forest at night, when he stopped to admire the stars shining through the gaps in the branches of the trees. It inspired him to set up a tree in his house, and bedeck it with candles, to show his children the wonder and beauty of God’s creation.

The first Christmas Tree to arrive in England was brought here by Queen Charlotte, the wife of King George III, in 1800.

But it was Prince Albert, the amazing consort of Queen Victoria, who really started the tree’s popularity. He had transformed the popular view of the Royal Family, from unpopular and useless parasites at the start of his wife’s reign to a much loved national institution a few years later. So when people saw that this much admired young family had a Christmas Tree, they all - as is the way of the world - wanted one.

Do we love the Christmas Tree? Of course we do.

The Christmas Tree, and many other seasonal traditions, are discussed in my talk “The Holly and the Ivy”, one of several talks for the festive season which I give to groups.