The Christmas Tree

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A family enjoying Christmas

      Long before Christianity , plants and trees that remaind green all year had a special meaning for people in the winter.  Just as people today decorate their homes during the festive season with pine, spruce, and fir trees, ancient peoples hung evergreen boughs over their doors and windows.

     The first Christmas tree in Canada was set up in Sorel, Quebec in 1781 by Baron Friederick von Riedesel. He was born in Germany. Baron selected a fine tree from the forests that surrounded his home and decorated it with white candles. The Christmas tree, along with the Nativity scene are some of  most common symbols of Christmas across Canada in homes, businesses and public spaces. The tree is a symbol of evergreen, of life, of magical powers in deepest winter. Pagan German tribes as well set up fir trees in their homes to welcome the domestic goddess of home and hearth.

       Historical evidence for the decoration of trees at Christmas dates from Riga, Latvia in 1510 on Christmas Eve. Descriptions of German Christmas trees date to 1531 in Alsace and 1605 in Strasbourg, where the firs were decorated with paper roses, along with apples, candy and pretzels. Gifts for children were placed among the branches. Popular legend attributes the custom of lighting the trees with candles to Martin Luther (1483-1546), who supposedly used the candles to symbolize the stars he saw on a clear Christmas Eve.

       In 1848 the Illustrated London News published a drawing of the royal family celebrating around a decorated Christmas tree, a tradition that was reminiscent of Prince Albert's childhood in Germany. The tradidtion spread to almost every home in Britain, where trees were decorated with candles, candy, fruit, homemade decorations and small gifts. Whatever its origin the custom gained wide popularity over the next 200 years.

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