The tradition of the Christmas tree, dearly loved by the young and the old alike, is shrouded in a haze of mystery and enchantment, fading into a mist of ancient celebrations, fairytales and dusty old documents. Although we cannot establish the true origin of this practice with any certainty, the fascinating legends surrounding it guide us on a journey through time.

In ancient times, many pagan cultures celebrated the arrival of winter, decorating trees as a symbol of seasons passing and an auspice for a prosperous year ahead. The Celts, for example, hung ribbons and various accessories on fir trees to ensure an abundant spring. The Vikings decorated the Norway spruce fir typical of Northern Europe with fruit to guarantee fertility. A few centuries later in Tallin, Estonia, an enormous fir tree was erected in the town hall square, and men and women danced together around it in the hope of finding a soul mate.

So there you have it: different countries, similar traditions.

Town centre, Colmar, Alsace at Christmas. Photo Sami Sert | iStock

A leap forward through the centuries brings us to the border between Germany and France – Strasbourg, to be precise. People say that the first Christmas market started taking place here in 1500. The city was adorned with paper decorations, apples, sugar and shimmering objects that looked like they were made of gold. It’s no coincidence that the capital of Alsace and the towns in this region are some of the most popular tourist destinations in the month of December!

The modern Christmas tree

Other fascinating tales come to light when you start discussing the history of the Christmas tree. One involves Martin Luther, theologian and founder of the Protestant movement. Moonlight reflecting on a frozen tree trunk apparently inspired him to decorate his home. To do this he brought some branches into his home, which he decorated with candles, as we can see in some 19th century etchings.

Another tale from the 17th century concerns the Duchess of Brieg. Dissatisfied with the Christmas decorations in her castle, the German noblewoman had a small fir tree brought in from her garden to fill an empty space in the ballroom, thus establishing an iconic tradition.

There are more stories in the 1800s. People say that the Polish tradition of blown glass ornaments came about from a request by Ludowika of Bavaria, mother of Princess Sisi, while others contest this story, saying that the Viennese princess Henrietta von Nassau Weilburg claims that title.

But we can even take ourselves off to Italy. People say that the first glass baubles, imported from Eastern Europe, were requested by Queen Margherita of Savoia for decorating the Christmas tree in the Quirinale in the late 1800s.

So, what is the true origin? We don’t know, but perhaps that veil of mystery makes the tradition even more appealing. The most important thing is the time we spend around it, even lovelier if there’s a fire crackling in the hearth nearby.

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Valeria si occupa di Content per Cricket Adv e dal 2015 gestisce i social Palazzetti. Nel web scrive di beauty, lifestyle, arredamento e cucina. Ama la musica, l'arredamento scandinavo e il buon cibo!