Saturday, 24 December 2011

Oh Christmas Tree!: A History in Photos

The most recognizable and traditional symbol of the holiday season, the Christmas tree is a custom that has continued from generation to generation and place to place.

But how did the the fir tree find its way from the lonely forests into homes?

 People first started selling Christmas trees in German marketplaces. People would bring the trees home and set them up undecorated.

So many evergreen trees had been cut down that a 1561 forest ordinance from Ammerschweier in Alsace, France (then part of Germany) declared that each burgher was allowed only one Christmas tree and that the tree could be no more than "8 shoes" in height (slightly over 4 feet).

 With the advent of wrapping paper in the 1880s, gifts, previously hung from the tree, were placed under the tree. The first electrically illuminated Christmas tree dates to 1882, just three years after the invention of the incandescent light bulb by Thomas Edison.

The event was reported in the Detroit Post and Tribune by a reporter named Croffut: "Last evening I walked over beyond Fifth Avenue and called at the residence of Edward H. Johnson, vice-president of Edison's electric company."

According to the report, Johnson's Christmas tree was "brilliantly lighted with many colored globes" the size of walnuts. Overall, there were  80 red, white and blue electric light bulbs.

Christmas tree decorations were further revolutionized in 1890, when the first blown glass ornaments were introduced into the United States, again from Germany.

The  Christmas tree was introduced in England by Prince Albert, who in 1839 bought a tree from his native Germany as a courtship gift to Princess Victoria. Soon Christmas trees became popular in the entire country.

In 1896, a 100-foot-high tree was erected at the Royal Aquarium in London. A couple thousand electric lamps illuminated its branches. "Tied on to the 'tree," which was built of several trees, were 20,000 toys, which were distributed among the poor children of London," wrote the daily Bristol Mercury.

Probably the most famous Christmas tree was the 70-foot-high tree given in 1947 by the city of Oslo as a gift to the people of London.

This year marks the 65th tree to come to London as a token of Norwegian appreciation of British friendship during WWII, when the Norwegian monarch and government moved to London after the German invasion of the country.

In the 1900s, over-harvesting of evergreens began to alarm conservationists and 1901, President Theodore Roosevelt tried to ban Christmas trees from holiday celebrations.

Around the same time, the first Christmas tree farm was started in New Jersey and the first artificial trees appeared in the United States, manufactured by the Addis British company, makers of toilet bowl brushes. In 1950, the aluminum tree was patented.

The evergreen fir tree is now defying a sagging economy with soaring sales. According to analysts, Christmas tree sending for 2011 in the United States is likely to be the highest since before the recession in 2008.

Americans are expected to spend about $800 million for 25 million real trees and another $2.6 billion on 10 million artificial versions.

According to the Vatican daily L'Osservatore Romano, Italy was one of the last countries to accept the Christmas tree since they were long seen by the church as a Protestant practice.

"Pope Paul VI (1897-1978), of venerable memory, began the tradition of setting up a massive Christmas tree beside the grand crib in St Peter's Square," wrote the Vatican daily.

This year's tree, decorated with 2,500 silver and gold ornaments, comes from  Ukraine.

"It's a significant symbol of Christ's nativity because, with its evergreen boughs, it reminds us of enduring life," said Pope Benedict XVI.

Merry Christmas!

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1 comment:

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