History of the Christmas Tree
In North America early inhabitants knew that the shortest day of the year was called the winter solstice which falls on December 21st or 22nd each year. Many ancient people believed that the sun was a god and that winter came every year because the sun god had become weak. The winter solstice meant that the sun god would soon begin to return to good health and provide the necessary energy for new life. To celebrate the winter solstice, homes and temples were decorated with live evergreen boughs. This was a reminder that spring and summer would return and plants and gardens would again provide food to sustain life.
It is generally agreed, however, that the use of an evergreen tree as part of the Christmas celebration, started over 400 years ago in Germany and spread to most of northern Europe by the l9th century. The first recorded incident of the Christmas tree being used in Canada was in 1781 in Sorel, Quebec, by a German immigrant, Baron Friederick von Riedesel. The Baron’s tree was a balsam fir cut from the dense forest of Quebec and was decorated with white candles.
In 1846, Queen Victoria and her German Prince Albert, were sketched in the London News standing with their children around a Christmas tree. Queen Victoria was very popular with her subjects, and the Christmas tree immediately became fashionable, not only in Britain, but in other British colonies. However, the honour of establishing this tradition in the United Kingdom rightfully belongs to Queen Charlotte, the German wife of George III, who set up the first known Christmas tree at Queen’s Lodge, Windsor, in December 1800.
In the early 20th century Canadians decorated their trees mainly with homemade ornaments, while German descendants continued to use candles, trinkets, apples, nuts, and marzipan cookies. Popcorn strings dyed with bright colors and interlaced with berries and nuts were also very popular. Thomas Edison is credited with developing strings of lights powered by electricity, making it possible for Christmas trees to glow for days. With this invention, lighted Christmas trees began to appear in town squares across the country.
The Christmas tradition, celebrated in Canada today, has borrowed customs from people around the world including advent calendars, gingerbread houses and Christmas cookies. Many families have adopted the Christmas tree as their symbol and centerpiece of the festive season. As it has for centuries, the evergreen tree symbolizes our belief in renewed life and the hope that lives in all humanity, regardless of race, religion or orientation.