Choosing a Tree

Posted On November 24, 2006

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The tree is the centre of the home at Christmas so choose it very carefully.

Since pagan times evergreen plants have been used to decorate homes, especially during winter, when they were regarded as symbols of eternal life and light. Decorated trees were also used to symbolise the garden of Eden, and eventually these themes fused together to create the image of an evergreen tree, radiant with light, as the symbol of reborn hope, put up in people’s homes at Christmas time. By the mid-seventeenth century, Christmas trees were popular throughout Europe and people would cut down small firs and decorate them with sweetmeats, fruit and candles.

When, just before Christmas 1846, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert appeared in a drawing in the Illustrated London News, which showed them gathered with their family around a decorated tree, it was clear the Christmas tree was a Royal tradition, and was soon adopted by commoners. Queen Victoria herself described potted trees “hung with lights and sugar ornaments” at Christmas, while Charles Dickens referred to the Christmas tree as that “new German toy”.

At that time, trees were usually displayed on tables in pots, with gifts placed underneath. The imported German springelbaum was the tree of choice until the 1880s, when the home-grown Norway spruce became available. This made a larger tree more affordable, and people began placing trees on the floor, where they’ve stood ever since.

Today, about seven million Christmas trees are grown and sold in the UK each year, with millions more artificial trees being bought. The variety of artificial trees is amazing. You can buy them in sizes from two feet to forty feet, mostly in the traditional “fir” shape, plain or pre-lit, with fibre-optic branches or frosted, in just about any colour you want, from silver to pink to blue to “natural” green, decorated with berries, baubles, pine cones or snow or simply plain. Gimmicks include flashing, talking, singing, swaying or dancing trees. You can even buy pine-scented spray to make your tree smell like the real thing.

But there really is nothing like the real thing. Of course, real trees may not be practical if you live in a small flat or up a few flights of stairs, but there can be few finer sights than a gracious spruce, fir or pine dressed in all its festive finery as the centre-piece of a warm and welcoming living room on Christmas Day.

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