History of Christmas Trees: The Ultimate Guide

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The Ultimate Guide to Christmas Trees

Today Christmas trees are such an essential part of the festivities and a sign that Christmas has arrived. You only need to think of the tree at Trafalgar Square in London and the tree at the Rockefeller Centre.

Whether you go off to pick your perfect tree from your nearest Christmas tree farm or haul your artificial tree down from the loft, putting up your Christmas tree is a tradition for any family. However, the history of Christmas trees is lesser-known. 

But, had it not been for Queen Victoria, we could say that Christmas trees would not be what they are today. So, how have Christmas trees become what they are today? And what do they symbolise?

We’ve put together a brief summary to answer to all your Christmas tree questions.

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Are Christmas Trees Evergreen? 

Fir trees are traditionally used for Christmas trees as they are evergreen, and have been used to celebrate winter festivals for thousands of years. Even during the winter months, they are still bright with their green leaves. 

Evergreen leaves are smaller and tougher to minimise water loss during the winter months when soil becomes frozen. Water is lost through small holes on leaves, however, on evergreen leaves these holes are much, much smaller. 

Have a read of our Christmas Tree Facts here.

What is the Real Meaning of the Christmas Tree?

It is sometimes hard to remember the symbolism of a Christmas tree when decorating a tree with tinsel, fairy lights, baubles and ornaments. 

Trees that stayed green all year round have always had a special meaning for people. Evergreens symbolise an everlasting life with God. 

Long before Christianity, people would use evergreen plants to decorate their homes in the Northern Hemisphere to celebrate the Winter Solstice. Egyptians, Celts, Viking and ancient Romans would decorate their homes and temples with evergreen branches during the winter months to celebrate the Winter Solstice.

However, the prominence of using these evergreen trees as a symbol for Christmas did not come about until the 12th century when Europeans, particularly poorer people in Germany, would hang Fir trees upside down to decorate their homes over the festive season. It was not until the 16th century that Martin Luther lit the first Christmas tree with candles to show his children how stars shined bright during the night. 

So, now we know the symbolic meaning, let’s discover the history of Christmas trees.

History of Christmas Trees

The history of Christmas trees is a story that dates back centuries. After Fir trees became a Christmas symbol in Northern Europe in the 12th century, Germany was the first country to commercialise Christmas trees. In the 16th century, markets would sell gifts, trees, food and wreaths to the nation so they could decorate their homes. 

Christmas trees originated from Germany and were introduced to England in the early 19th century. They were popularised by Prince Albert, who was born in Germany, and his wife Queen Victoria and decorated with toys, small gifts, candles, ribbons and fancy chains. 

Christmas trees were taken to North America as early as the 17th century by Germans, and they became the height of fashion by the 19th century. 

To begin with, Christmas trees were placed on tables as they were smaller, however larger trees were available from Norway and people began to buy larger trees to place on the floor. This began the tradition of laying gifts underneath their Christmas trees. 

Types of Christmas Trees

Nowadays, 98% of all Christmas trees are grown on Christmas tree farms.

The most common Christmas trees are usually an evergreen conifer such as a Spruce, Pine or a Fir tree. There are different species of a Spruce, Pine and Fir, however, Fir trees are the most popular. Fir trees are distinguished with their cones which stand upright on their branches. 

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To list the most popular Christmas trees and their advantages and drawbacks:

Balsam Fir

Pros: Strong, lasting Christmas tree scent, perfect shape, doesn’t lose needles easily 

Cons: Flexible branches not good for large, heavy ornaments

Noble Fir

Pros: Strong branches, classic look and scent, long-lasting

Cons: Shorter branches and needles made it more difficult to hang baubles

Douglas Fir

Pros: Needles are soft to touch, needles do not drop quickly, very affordable, sweeter scent

Cons: Shorter and smaller tree so can’t hold baubles as well

Fraser Fir

Pros: Needles don’t drop easily, strong needles and branches, strong lasting smell

Cons: Look of the tree is compact and denser

Scotch Pine

Pros: Strong, long-lasting scent, very high needle retention, long-lasting

Cons: Needles can be dull as opposed to a brighter, dark green

White Pine

Pros: Needles are very soft, affordable, long-lasting needles, grows very tall, good shape

Cons: Very little scent, does not hold baubles very well

Virginia Pine

Pros: Popular in the south of the US

Cons: Very dense, shorter and more compact tree

Which Tree Smells the Best?

If you’re looking for a Christmas tree which brings the smell of Christmas into your home, opt for a fir tree such as a Balsam, Fraser or Noble Fir tree. These all have a very traditional scent. 

Pine trees have a good smell however remember to avoid a spruce tree if you are looking for a scented tree.

Which Christmas Tree Grows Fastest?

Christmas trees all grow at different speeds and are of course subject to factors including the environment and climate which all play an important part. 

On average, it takes Christmas trees around 10 years to grow from seed to a large enough size to cut. Generally, the taller the tree the longer it has been growing. 

However, the Leyland Cypress is a tree known to grow 3-4 feet vertically per year making it a popular choice for Christmas tree farmers to mass-produce trees and keep up with demand.

The Leyland Cypress is dark green, slightly grey in colour, and has very little aroma. The leaves are generally flat and less traditional looking than other Christmas trees. Nevertheless, it is a very popular choice of tree. 

Unlike Pine and Spruce trees, the Leyland Cypress does not produce any sap making it a perfect option for those with sap allergies.

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How to Look After Your Christmas Tree

So, you have your Christmas tree. Now, how do you make it long-lasting and prevent the needles from falling all over your floor?

A freshly cut Christmas tree has the potential to last between 3-5 weeks if it is well cared for. All a well-maintained tree asks for is for high moisture so keep it in a stand submerged in plain water. 

Check your tree every day to ensure it is still submerged in water, and if possible keep it away from heat such as direct sunlight and fireplaces.

Artificial Trees

Nowadays, real Christmas trees are no longer the only option. 

Artificial Christmas trees were also introduced in the 19th century, and have now evolved to look like-like. Originally developed in Germany, these artificial trees were made from goose feathers which were dyed green. This came about by mass deforestation in Germany. 

By the late 1900s and early 2000s, artificial trees have gained popularity and less to mass production. Today, artificial Christmas trees are available in all shapes, sizes and colours. There are even trees available with fairy lights pre-wired to save families time. 

There are many pros to an artificial Christmas tree and can be much for sustainable and are generally safer for in general and for your ornaments. However, they should be used for over 10 years before they become environmentally friendly. 

Fortunately, there is little to no maintenance required for artificial Christmas trees. Perhaps, a little restructuring of the branches each year to give it a revamp and get it looking as good as new again. 

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Where to Buy Artificial Trees

Take a look at Balsam Hill or Amazon for some great quality artificial Christmas trees. We love this 7.5′ Premium Spruce Hinged Artificial Christmas Tree which is highly reviewed and recommended for its quality and price. For a pre-lit tree, this Balsam Fir Christmas tree looks beautiful and also has amazing reviews. The pre-list tree comes in 3 different sizes – 6ft, 7ft and 8ft.

Final Thoughts on the History of Christmas Trees

The history of Christmas trees have come a long way since its humble beginnings back in Egyptian times. To keep up with demand over 77 million trees are planted each year, with 30 million trees sold each year in the USA alone. With so many options, from artificial trees to real trees, to a Balsam fir to a Leyland Cypress, how are you going to choose your Christmas tree this year? 

Related Christmas Tree Articles:

History of Christmas Trees: The Ultimate Guide

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