Today the Tree is a central feature of the Christmas celebrations but its origins are ancient and pre-date Christianity.
Pagans used trees as part of their religious ceremonies. The Druids decorated Oak trees with fruit and candles in honour of their Gods of the Harvest. During the Roman festival of Saturnalia, trees were decorated with gifts and candles.
The Vikings regarded evergreen coniferous trees as symbols that the darkness of winter would end and that spring would return.
So how did the tree become part of Christmas? One legend tells of St. Boniface who encountered some German pagans about to sacrifice a child at the base of an old Oak tree.
He cut down the Oak to prevent the sacrifice and a Fir tree grew in its place. St Boniface told the pagans that this was the Tree of Life and represented Christ.
Another legend ascribes the Christmas tree to Martin Luther, the founder of Protestantism.
The legend tells how Luther saw the stars shining through the branches of a forest as he walked at night giving him an impression of twinkling lights. The beauty of this so impressed him that he cut down a small evergreen and brought it into his home to recreate the scene using lighted candles on the tree’s branches.
Germany seems to have started the use of a decorated tree as part of Christmas. When trees were scarce a wooden pyramid was sometimes used and this would be decorated with branches and candles.
In Britain the Christmas tree was popularised in 1841 by Prince Albert and Queen Victoria, (both of German decent), who decorated a tree at Windsor Castle with candles, fruits, gingerbread and sweets. This then spread to America via German emigrants.
Nowadays the Christmas tree is seen worldwide in homes, churches, workplaces and cities.