The Christmas tree conquers the world

13th December 2018, by Gabriel 

In my previous article, I told you about the origins of the Christmas tree and the first mention about it in 1492 in Strasbourg. But how did it succeed, from our beautiful Alsace, in conquering the homes of the wide world ?

From the Rhineland, the germanic custom rapidly and widely spread throughout the whole Holy Roman Empire and by the 18th century, the decorated conifer had firmly settled in the germanic culture.

A Christmas Tree in the middle of the forest

From the Rhineland to the USA

The English Royal Family around the Christmas Tree

It’s in 1841 that the Prince Albert (coming from Germany and the husband of Queen Victoria) introduces the tradition in the United Kingdom. He has a Christmas tree installed in the Windsor castle. In 1848, the “Illustrated London News” newspaper shows an image of the royal family around a Christmas tree. From the Court, the trend of the Christmas pine tree rapidly spreads into the bourgeoisie and, of course, among the common folk, for if the Queen decorates a tree for Christmas, the English will decorate a tree for Christmas as well!

It comes to France later on, after 1870 and the exodus of some Alsatians to the “Old France”. Only then does the tradition get acknowledged. Indeed, the Alsatians were given the choice: they could remain French, but then they had to leave their homeland. Some Alsatians then immigrated to what we call today “the inside France”.

But this is really thanks to the English and the British empire, present pretty much all over the globe, that the tradition swept over the whole world. These days, you can find the king of the forests pretty much everywhere for Christmas.

But then, what about the fir tree?

Yes, you may have noticed that I carefully avoided the use of the words “fir tree” until now… It was already the case in the previous article! At first, we were talking about a spruce, a conifer from the Pinaceae family, as is the fir tree by the way… Still, it isn’t the same species.

Fir needles details

In the beginning, we would use the spruce, that’s for the symbol. Plus, the tradition requires that we only set the king of the forests up in the middle of the living room on December 24, at the earliest. And it should be removed before the arrival of the Three Wise Men on the Epiphany day (January 6). Well, the fact is we like it very much, so we set it up earlier… But the spruce, once it has been cut down and exposed to the warmth of our homes, loses its needles rather quickly.

Spruce needles details

In the end, the fir tree is so much better: it keeps its needles despite the heat, it smells good and, to top it off, the needles sting less! So, we went over to the fir tree side… And more importantly, “fir tree” is easier to say than “spruce”, so why bother!? OK, maybe this last reason works mostly for the French words, “sapin” and “épicea” 😉

By the way, if you don’t want to bother finding new “old stories” to tell your family as you eat the Yule log this year, come join us for our guided tours. We will tell you many other wonderful and in-tree-dible stories 😉

Le Grand Sapin au Rockfeller Center de New York