People across the world are preparing for Christmas by buying gifts, arranging gatherings and of course, decorating fir trees.
“One of the most loved symbols of the festive season”, said the i news site, Christmas trees date “as far back as ancient Rome and pagan traditions”. The Romans “used fir trees to decorate their temples at the festival of Saturnalia”, held at the end of December to honour god of agriculture Saturn.
Evergreen boughs were also “essential seasonal decor” for pagan winter solstice celebrations, said National Geographic. But the Christmas tree tradition “as we know it” today probably began in the 16th century in the German region of Alsace (now part of France), the magazine added. Historical records show that a Christmas tree was raised in Strasbourg Cathedral in 1539, and “the tradition had grown so popular throughout the region that the city of Freiburg banned felling trees for Christmas in 1554”.
In the UK, the tree tradition was popularised by Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert, after an illustration of their family gathered around a decorated fir was published in 1848 in the Illustrated London News paper. As a “trendsetter of her time”, said National Geographic, Victoria’s seal of approval for Christmas trees ensured the tradition “took off around the world”.
Here are some of this year’s most eye-catching festive offerings.
Trafalgar Square, London
The Trafalgar Square Christmas tree has been gifted to the people of London by the Norwegian city of Oslo every year since 1947, “to thank Britain for its support” during the Second World War, said the BBC. But the Norwegian spruces have “not always inspired excitement among Londoners”, the broadcaster added. The tree sent over in 2019 was branded a turkey after being described as “anaemic” and “droopy”.
The US Capitol, Washington D.C.
The US Department of Agriculture Forest Service has provided a Christmas tree each year since 1970 to stand on the West Front Lawn of Capitol Hill. “We call it the People’s Tree because it is a gift from the people’s public lands to the US Capitol Building – the people’s house – where it stands for all to see,” said the department. This year’s offering, a 78ft-tall spruce, has been nicknamed Ruby after the tree’s scientific name, Picea rubens.
The Lithuanian capital of Vilnius is gearing up to celebrate not only Christmas but also its 700th anniversary. So the city’s festival planners decided to “go creative” and decorate this year’s tree to look like a birthday cake, “as a way to remind residents and visitors that the party is only beginning”, said TheMayor.eu.
Port Macquarie, Australia
Images of the festive decorations in the New South Wales town of Port Macquarie have gone viral for all the wrong reasons. Local officials have produced “one of the most underwhelming Christmas trees of all time”, said news.com.au. The lighting of the much-mocked pine tree was billed as the “highlight” of Port Macquarie Hastings Council’s annual Christmas Fair. But councillors later admitted that their centrepiece looked like it was “decorated by Santa after he’s whizzed around the world and had too many eggnogs”.
While the “ginormous Christmas tree” in the central Italian town of Gubbio “isn’t a tree, exactly”, said TimeOut, the annual light display is certainly impressive. The sort-of tree “covers over 1,000 square metres” and “features thousands of lights”, as well as “several kilometres of electrical cabling”, the magazine reported. And the lighting up ceremony has become “such a renowned event” that popes Francis and Benedict XVI have flipped the switch in past years.
Rockefeller Center, New York
A firm New York tradition, the lighting of the Rockerfeller Christmas tree took place for the 90th time at the end of last month, during a ceremony that featured performances by musicians including Gwen Stafani and Alicia Keys. The 82ft-tall Norway spruce is topped by a “900lb star with three million Swarovski crystals”, said The New York Times, and is lit up by more than 50,000 multicolored LED lights.