I can smell it now, that magical whiff of pine needles and oven-fresh mince pies. We dust off the Bing Crosby carol CD, and his velvet voice competes with the shrieks of the children. I love that cold afternoon when we turn up the heating and put up the tree.
The twinkling trees that light up the land between December and twelfth night have their roots in sixteenth century Germany (‘Tannenbaum’ means ‘fir tree’ in German). Folklore tells us that the triangular shape of the fir represented the holy trinity – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit – and that originally Christmas trees were hung upside down.
Even the right way up, they didn’t really catch on with the English until, in December 1848, the London News printed a woodcut illustration of Queen Victoria with her German Prince Albert, standing in front of one. Victoria was a popular queen, and Christmas trees became quite the fashion after that.
Throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, Christmas tree fashions came and went. In World War II they were forbidden except in public places where they were put up to boost moral. They returned in the glow of post-war nostalgia, and families gleefully shopped at Woolworth’s for baubles, tinsel, angels and stars. The psychedelic 60’s brought us tacky, pre-lit silver trees, and 1970’s housewives bought plastic green ones that didn’t drop needles on the carpet.
I have always thought that, like dogs, Christmas trees say something about their owners: Some are small and neatly tucked in the corner; some lush and gloriously overcrowded with quirky baubles; others a simple, quiet statement of elegance. Oh Tannenbaum, what a lot you have to tell us.