The history of the Christmas tree
Although we think of the Christmas tree as a Victorian tradition, the use of evergreens to decorate homes in December dates back to pre-Christian times.
In northern Europe evergreens were a symbol of eternal life as they survived the harsh winter months. They were therefore used as decoration around the time of the winter solstice, which was a celebration of winter light and rebirth. It is generally believed that the first real Christian Christmas tree dates back to eighth-century Germany.
The story goes that Boniface, an English missionary, introduced a fir tree decorated in homage to the Christ Child, as a replacement for the customary pagan sacrifices to Odin's sacred oak. Later, an evergreen tree became a part of the medieval German mystery plays which told the stories of Christ's life; a decorated tree was used to symbolise the Garden of Eden.
After the suppression of these plays, trees were taken into people's homes at Christmas time.
By the time of the Reformation in Germany these themes had fused together to create the image of an evergreen tree, radiant with light, as the symbol of reborn hope.
It is said that Martin Luther was one of the first people to put candles on these trees, after he walked through some woods and was inspired by the stars one Christmas.