Christmas tree

Christmas tree

A Christmas tree, also Christmas tree (in Upper Germany exclusively, in the Rhineland frequently) or Fir tree is a decorated coniferous tree that is placed in a building or outdoors at Christmas time. Traditional places of installation are churches and homes. The tree decorations were usually strings of lights, candles, Christmas tree balls, tinsel, angels or other figures. This Christmas custom spread in the 19th century. From the German-speaking countries in the nineteenth century over the whole world.

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Christmas tree

For decoration in winter, actually, only evergreen plants come into question, so their use in winter does not yet show a line of tradition to the Christmas tree.

Evergreen plants embody vitality, and it is therefore often thought that people in earlier times believed they were bringing health into their homes by decorating their homes with greenery. The Encyclopedia Britannica cites the use of ornamentation by evergreen trees, wreaths and garlands as a symbol of eternal life among the ancient Egyptians, Chinese and Hebrews. [1]

The Romans wreathed their houses with laurel branches at the turn of the year. By decorating a tree for the winter solstice, the Mithras cult honored the sun god. In northern regions, too, fir branches were hung in the house early in winter to make it difficult for evil spirits to enter and settle in, and at the same time the greenery gave hope for the return of spring.

Early modern and modern times

In Christianity, the fir tree originally symbolized the expulsion of Adam and Eve from paradise as a "paradise tree". This was celebrated on the day of Adam and Eve in the calendar of saints, the 24th day of the year. December, depicted in a mystery play. For this, a tree was needed that could also be seen on 24. December was still green. [2] When the 24. December was increasingly perceived as the "holy evening" before Christmas, this paradise tree took on a life of its own and became the Christmas tree.

In 1492, the Liebfrauenwerk of Strasbourg bought fir trees for the parishes of the city: "Item Koufft 9 Tannen in die 9 Kichspill, das gut jor darjnn zu empfohlen, unnd darumb gebenn 2 Gulden" (Item Koufft 9 fir trees in the 9 Kichspill, the good jor darjnn zu empfohlen, unnd darumb dafur gebenn 2 Gulden). The text of the deed mentions the New Year as the occasion, but until the 16th century, the Christmas tree was used as a symbol for the expulsion of Adam and Eve from paradise. Century in the holy Roman realm the beginning of the year lay on the Weihnachtsfest. [3] The firs cost the work two guilders. [4]

An entry in an account book of the Humanist Library in Schlettstadt dates from 1521: "Item IIII schillinge dem foerster die meyen an sanct Thomas tag zu hieten." (New High German translation: "Likewise four shillings to the forester, so that he from the St.-Thomas day the trees guarded.") By the black heads in Riga and Reval in the first half of the 16. Century towards the end of the Christmas season fir trees to the market carried, decorated and finally burned. [5]

One of the oldest written mentions of a Christmas tree is dated 1527. It can be read in a file of the Mainz rulers of "die weiennacht baum" in the Hubnerwald in Stockstadt am Main. [6]

From 1539 there is again documentary evidence that a Christmas tree was erected in Strasbourg Cathedral. The guilds and associations were finally the ones who put an evergreen tree in the guild houses. In a payroll of the imperial city of Gengenbach from 1576 it is mentioned that the forester "ime Strohbach" had brought a "Wiehnachtsbaum uf die Ratsstuben" (Christmas tree to the council rooms). [7]

Early records of the Christmas tree as a common custom date from 1605, again from Alsace: "Auff Weihenachten richtent man Dannenbaum zu Straszburg in den stuben auff hencket man roszen aus vielfarbigem papier geschnitten, Aepfel, Oblaten, Zischgolt [thin, shaped tinsel plates made of metal], Zucker etc." [1]."In 1611, Duchess Dorothea Sibyl of Silesia decorated a Christmas tree with candles for the first time.

Also the next news about the Christmas tree comes from Strasbourg. In an essay written between 1642 and 1646, Johann Conrad Dannhauer, a preacher at the Strasbourg cathedral, was outraged by the custom of setting up Christmas trees in homes: "Among other trifles, so that the old Christmas season is often celebrated more than with God’s word, is also the Christmas or fir tree, which is set up at home, hung with dolls and sugar, and then shaken off and left to blossom (cleared away). Where the habit comes from, I do not know; is a child’s play."

Popularization of the custom from the 18th century. Century

Christmas tree

Christmas tree

Christmas tree

Since the first half of the 18. At the end of the nineteenth century, the news about the Christmas tree then become more frequent. Johann Heinrich Jung-Stilling, born in Nassau in 1740, seems to bring back a memory of his childhood when, in his Das Heimweh (Homesickness), published in 1793, he speaks of the brightly lit tree of life with gilded nuts to which the child is led on the morning of Christmas Day.

In foreign perception, the Christmas tree could be considered typically German and – even more narrowly defined – typically Lutheran, even attributed to Martin Luther himself. [9] [10]

One of the first mentions of the Christmas tree in German literature comes from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. In the epistolary novel The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774), the protagonist visits Lotte, whom he adores, on the Sunday before Christmas and speaks of the times when the unexpected opening of the door and the appearance of a "spruced-up tree" with wax lights, candy and apples sent one into paradisiacal rapture. Friedrich Schiller did not depict a Christmas scene in his works, but he loved the feast under the tree. In 1789, he wrote to Charlotte Buff (Lotte) that he was coming to Weimar for Christmas, saying, "You will hopefully put up a green tree for me in the room."In 1805, the Christmas tree became known to a large circle of readers through the fact that Johann Peter Hebel described it in the song The mother on Christmas Eve from his Alemannic poems mentioned. On the eve of Christmas in 1815, Wilhelm Hoffmann set up the world’s first publicly decorated Christmas tree in Weimar for poor children. [11] E. T. A. Hoffmann’s fairy tale Nutcracker and Mouse King from the year 1816 is the first Berlin literary monument, in which the light shining fir tree, decorated with golden apples and sweets, appears in the middle of Christmas presents.

Since fir trees were rare in Central Europe, at first only the wealthy classes could afford them, and the urban population had to make do with twigs and accumulating greenery. It was not until the second half of the 19. When more fir and spruce forests were planted at the end of the nineteenth century, the urban demand could be met.

Although the Catholic Church had for a long time attributed the greater symbolic value to the Christmas crib, in time it also adopted the custom of erecting a Christmas tree. By the end of the 19. At the end of the nineteenth century, the Christmas tree is also attested in the Catholic regions of Germany and Austria. The first Christmas tree in Vienna was put up in 1814 by Fanny von Arnstein, a distinguished Jewish socialite from Berlin [12] in whose house representatives of the high nobility also came and went. As early as 1816, according to other sources in 1823 at the Albertina, [13] this tradition was taken up by Henriette von Nassau-Weilburg, the wife of Archduke Karl [14] and from then on spread to all social classes in Austria.

1815, the government of Lower Austria banned "the cutting and digging up of trees for the purpose of Corpus Christi processions, church festivals, Christmas trees and the like". By "the like" was presumably meant the little St. Nicholas trees, which in 1782 were described as a "green tree with burning candles, on which some pounds of candied sugar shine just as the candied cherry tree shimmers with ripeness in wintertime". [15] The first Christmas tree balls were blown around 1830. In 1833, King Otto of Greece, a native of Bavaria, had two "royal" Christmas trees placed in public places, one each in Nauplion and Athens. Crowds of people formed to admire the decorated trees.

Christmas tree

The Christmas tree was brought to North America by German emigrants and sailors. Old U.S. newspapers report that Gustav Korner introduced the typical German custom of the lighted and decorated Christmas tree to the United States-soon after arriving in the state of Illinois for his first Christmas in the United States in 1833. As early as 1832, however, the German-American writer and Harvard professor Karl Follen, who came from Hesse, was the first to put up a Christmas tree in his house in Cambridge (Massachusetts), thus introducing this custom to New England. [16] [16] [17] In the States, already towards the end of the 19. Christmas trees made of iron in the middle of the eighteenth century. These marvels of technology were already partly illuminated with gas: "The gas floods through the hollow branches, and where candles otherwise shine, the gas flame twitches up from a narrow crack."

When Queen Victoria of England married Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha in 1840, the Christmas tree came to London. The Netherlands, Russia, especially Petersburg and Moscow, where, however, it was common only in the highest circles, and Italy also owe their Christmas tree to the Germans. In 1837, Duchess Helene of Orleans introduced the Christmas tree to the Tuileries; later, Empress Eugenie did much to spread its popularity. Two decades later, 35 fir trees were already being planted in Paris.000 Christmas trees sold.

20. and 21. Century

In St. Peter’s Square in Rome, a Christmas tree was also erected for the first time in 1982. [18]

In Austria, at the end of the 20. Since the beginning of the twentieth century, it has become a tradition to deliver Christmas trees as gifts to various institutions and organizations abroad. This is how an Austrian conifer has stood in front of the EU Parliament in Brussels since EU accession. Cutting, special road transport, erection and lighting in a capital city are also staged as a spectacle of the urban Advent market, as shown by the example of a 30-meter-high, 140-year-old conifer in Graz in 2011. [19] Similarly, every year at the start of the Christmas market, a fir tree is erected in Hamburg’s town hall market, which is a gift from a Nordic state to the city-state.

Tree species used

Christmas tree

Firs are the main Christmas trees, but spruces and other conifers such as pines are also used. The market share of Nordmann fir in Germany in 2020 was about 80 percent, [20] about 85 percent of Nordmann fir came from Germany, 15 percent was imported. [21] The number of trees sold in Germany has been stable for many years and is about. 25 million Christmas trees per year. [22] Until the end of the 1950s, Germans almost exclusively had red spruce as a Christmas tree in their homes. In the 1960s until the mid-1970s, they preferred the more densely growing blue spruce, and from the early 1980s the Nordmann fir. This tree grows relatively evenly, has soft needles and a comparatively high needle durability. [23] Unlike spruce and many other fir species (z. B. Nobilis), however, the Nordmann fir is almost odorless. Nordmann firs are grown mainly on agricultural land in the Sauerland region, in Schleswig-Holstein and Denmark.


It takes between eight and twelve years to grow from a seed to a two-meter Christmas tree, depending on the plant species. The seeds are obtained from cones of older trees. The seeds are grown in nurseries to seedlings, and these are sold after three to four years to forestry and Christmas tree companies as young plants. The further development of the shape and growth of the Christmas trees strongly depends on the quality of the soil, the climatic conditions and on the maintenance work carried out. On the more extensively managed areas, the use of plant protection products is only required to a limited extent to increase quality. [24] The multi-year production period creates a new type of ecosystem for endangered breeding bird species in Christmas tree cultures. [25] Smaller plantations can produce a forest-like climate through varied planting (different ages, different varieties/origins), making the use of herbicides unnecessary. Smaller farms regulate the accompanying growth manually or use sheep. [26]

Economic importance

Christmas tree

Christmas tree

In Germany, about 616 million euros were spent on 28 million Christmas trees in 2006, per tree approx. 22 Euro. [27] In recent years there has been no increase in prices. [28] The area needed to grow the 28 million Christmas trees is approx. 40.000 ha. The average yield is between 60 and 70 percent of the trees planted, but it can vary greatly depending on the farm, the care given and the influence of nature.

Since the forest damage caused by hurricane Kyrill in 2007, the number of areas with monocultures has risen sharply. The added value of such plantations is thirty times per hectare per year compared to normal forestry; however, more fences are placed and pesticides are sprayed. In Brandenburg, Baden-Wurttemberg, Lower Saxony, and Schleswig-Holstein, therefore, the establishment of monocultures is subject to approval.

In Austria, approx. 2.4 million Christmas trees installed, 85% of which come from native forests. Of these, the majority come from Lower Austria, which also supplies the Viennese market. Imports from Denmark have been declining in recent years. [29] In other countries, artificial Christmas trees made of metal or plastic are also often used, which are usually collapsible and reusable.

67 percent of Germans put up a Christmas tree in 2020. 40 percent of the natural trees came from the stand of a Christmas tree dealer. 23 percent of households bought their tree directly from the producer, 18 percent from DIY stores, 12 percent from garden centers or nurseries, and 4 percent from an online retailer. [30]

Setting up the tree


The Christmas tree is put up before Christmas Eve. Whereas in the Protestant world it is traditionally celebrated after the Feast of the Epiphany on 6 December. After the fir has been removed from the tree on January 1, it often remains in Catholic families until the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord (Candlemas, 2 January). February), with which the Christmas season used to end (since the liturgical reform, however, this coincides with the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, i.e. the feast falling on the 6. January following Sunday).

Christmas tree stands

Christmas tree

Christmas tree

Christmas tree

A Christmas tree stand is used to secure and set up the Christmas tree. It usually consists of a round shape, similar to a large flower pot, which can be filled with water, and a metal holding device located inside the shape. Conventional Christmas tree stands hold the tree by means of screws; modern ones use clamping fingers that are pressed into the base of the tree by a continuous wire cable connected to a ratchet system, with a spike in the base for stabilization.

Adding glycerin to the water in the Christmas tree stand is said to keep the tree fresh longer and the needles on the tree longer.

Occasionally, you can still find the Christmas tree stands, mostly dating from around 1900, with a winding mechanism that provides a rotary movement of the tree and at the same time sets a music box in operation, which plays one or more Christmas carols to it. These stands, which were quite expensive at the time, were produced from 1873 onwards by the company J. C. Eckhardt produced in Stuttgart. [31] By the end of the 19th century. At the beginning of the twentieth century, it was common in some regions to hang the Christmas tree, sometimes upside down, from the ceiling of the room. [32] In the Lower Austrian Waldviertel, you can still find hooks on the ceiling in the parlors and living rooms of older buildings for attaching the Christmas tree.

The history of the Christmas tree stand can be discovered in the Christmas tree stand museum in Lienzingen. There are about 500 exhibits on display. [33]

Tree decorations

Christmas tree

Christmas tree balls remind of the fruits on the "tree of knowledge" in paradise, from which Adam and Eve ate against a commandment of God ( Gen 2,1-8 ). The 24. December was until the liturgical reform by the Second Vatican Council the liturgical commemoration day of Adam and Eve. [34] Original sin was atoned for, according to the Christian faith, by the birth of Jesus Christ, commemorated at Christmas, and his death on the cross. In the Paradise play, as in the biblical model, the fruit (the apple) was scenically plucked from the tree. In the course of development, the decorations on the Christmas tree became more varied, colorful and sweet. [35] A Christmas tree with Adam and Eve and snake made of wood or pastry continues to exist in northern Germany as Joolboom.

Gradually, the custom of greening the house became popular also among the common people and they brought branches and "Dannenreisig" into the house. The tinsel custom was developed as an innovation in Nuremberg in 1878. As a Christmas tree decoration, tinsel symbolizes the appearance of glittering icicles. In some regions, tinsel is not traditionally used, for example in Upper Franconia.

Today, the Christmas tree is usually decorated with colored glass elements (especially Christmas tree balls), Santa Claus figures, tinsel, straw stars, small wooden figures, and sweets. On the top one usually puts a star (in reference to the Star of Bethlehem), an angel or a glass top. The individual branches of the tree are decorated with candles. The nativity scene is often placed under the tree, with Christmas presents next to it. In many families, children were not supposed to see the decorated tree before the presents were given, and were urged by their parents to look at the tree first, before their own presents.

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