Friday, 14 December 2012

O Christmas Tree - Oh Tannenbaum...



...wie treu sind deine Blätter!
Du grünst nicht nur
  zur Sommerzeit,




Nein auch im Winter, wenn es schneit.
Oh Tannenbaum, oh Tannenbaum,
wie treu sind deine Blätter!

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While it is clear that the modern Christmas tree originates in Renaissance and early modern Germany,
there are a number of speculative theories as to its ultimate origin.


It is frequently traced to the symbolism of evergreen trees in pre-Christian winter rites,
especially with the story of the Donar Oak and Saint Boniface.

According to the Encyclopædia Britannica:
"The use of evergreen trees, wreaths, and garlands to symbolize eternal life was a custom of the ancient Egyptians, Chinese, and Hebrews. Tree worship was common among the pagan Europeans and survived their conversion to Christianity in the Scandinavian customs of decorating the house and barn with evergreens at the New Year to scare away the devil and of setting up a tree
for the birds during Christmastime."

Alternatively, it is identified with the "tree of paradise" of medieval mystery plays that were given on 24 December, 
the commemoration and name day of Adam and Eve in various countries. 
In such plays, a tree decorated with apples (to represent the forbidden fruit) 
and wafers (to represent the Eucharist and redemption) was used as a setting for the play. 
Like the Christmas crib, the Paradise tree was later placed in homes. 
The apples were replaced by round objects such as shiny red balls.


 

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THE CHRONOLOGICAL HISTORY OF THE CHRISTMAS TREE


St. Boniface Story
Why do we have a decorated Christmas Tree? In the 7th century a monk from Crediton, Devonshire, went to Germany
to teach the Word of God. He did many good works there, and spent much time in Thuringia,
an area which was to become the cradle of the Christmas Decoration Industry.
Legend has it that he used the triangular shape of the Fir Tree to describe the Holy Trinity of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The converted people began to revere the Fir tree as God's Tree, as they had previously revered the Oak. By the 12th century it was being hung, upside-down, from ceilings at Christmastime in Central Europe, as a symbol of Christianity.
The first decorated tree was at Riga in Latvia, in 1510.
In the early 16th century, Martin Luther is said to have decorated a small Christmas Tree
with candles, to show his children how the stars twinkled through the dark night.

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In the mid 16th century, Christmas markets were set up in German towns,
to provide everything from Christmas presents,



...food and more practical things such as a knife grinder to sharpen the knife to carve the Christmas Goose!
At these fairs, bakers made shaped gingerbreads and wax ornaments for people to buy as souvenirs of the fair,
and take home to hang on their Christmas Trees.


   "Eine Weihnachtszeitung für 1852"
from a German Christmas magazine for 1852

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The Christmas Market, Berlin 
by Franz Skarbina,  painted in 1892
A bustling Christmas market on a cold and wintry day in Berlin

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This traditional Christmas-markets are still taking place
in nearly every German village and town......

.....like the Nürnberger Christkindlesmarkt.....



....Germany's most famous Christmas market



Despite intense investigations carried out by several historians and people interested in local history, 
the origins of the Nürnberger Christkindlesmarkt are unknown. 
The oldest piece of evidence relating to it is a box made of coniferous wood. 
On the bottom can be found the following inscription: 
“Regina Susanna Harßdörfferin from the virgin Susanna Eleonora Erbsin (or Elbsin) 
sent to the Kindles-Marck in 1628. 
The box is currently in the possession of the Germanic National Museum in Nuremberg.
read more    here

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But back to the History of the Christmas Tree:

The best record we have is that of a visitor to Strasbourg in 1601.
 He records a tree decorated with "wafers and golden sugar-twists (Barleysugar) and paper flowers of all colours".
The early trees were biblically symbolic of the Paradise Tree in the Garden of Eden.
The many food items were symbols of Plenty, the flowers, originally only red (for Knowledge) and White (for Innocence).


 
Illustration by Max von Schenkendorf (1783-1817)

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Tinsel
Tinsel was invented in Germany around 1610. At that time real silver was used, and machines were invented which pulled the silver out into the wafer thin strips for tinsel. Silver was durable, but tarnished quickly, especially with candlelight. Attempts were made to use a mixture of lead and tin, but this was heavy and tended to break under its own weight so was not so practical. So silver was used for tinsel right up to the mid-20th century.




The First English Trees
The Christmas Tree first came to England with the Georgian Kings who came from Germany.
At this time also, German Merchants living in England decorated their homes with a Christmas Tree. 
The British public were not fond of the German Monarchy, so did not copy the fashions at Court,
 which is why the Christmas Tree did not establish in Britain at that time. A few families did have Christmas trees however, probably more from the influence of their German neighbours than from the Royal Court.
The decorations were Tinsels, silver wire ornaments, candles and small beads. All these had been manufactured in Germany and East Europe since the 17th century. The custom was to have several small trees on tables, one for each member of the family, with that persons gifts stacked on the table under the tree.





The Victorian and Albert Tree
In 1846, the popular Royals, Queen Victoria and her German Prince, Albert, were illustrated in the Illustrated London News.
They were standing with their children around a Christmas Tree.


 
  The Queen's Christmas tree at Windsor Castle published in the Illustrated London News, 1848,
and republished in Godey's Lady's Book, Philadelphia in December 1850.


Unlike the previous Royal family, Victoria was very popular with her subjects, and what was done at Court immediately became fashionable - not only in Britain, but with fashion-conscious East Coast American Society.
The English Christmas Tree had arrived!
Decorations were still of a 'home-made' variety. Young Ladies spent hours at Christmas Crafts, quilling snowflakes and stars, sewing little pouches for secret gifts and paper baskets with sugared almonds in them. Small bead decorations, fine drawn out silver tinsel came from Germany together with beautiful Angels to sit at the top of the tree.
Candles were often placed into wooden hoops for safety.

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Mid-Victorian Tree

In the 1850's Lauscha 
began to produce fancy shaped glass bead garlands for the trees, and short garlands made from necklace 'bugles' and beads. These were readily available in Germany but not produced in sufficient quantities to export to Britain. The Rauschgoldengel was a common sight. Literally, 'Tingled-angel', bought from the Thuringian Christmas markets, and dressed in pure gilded tin.
The 1860's English Tree had become more innovative than the delicate trees of earlier decades.
Small toys were popularly hung on the branches, but still most gifts were placed on the table under the tree.

   Illustration for Harper's Bazaar, published 1 January 1870.

Around this time, the Christmas tree was spreading into other parts of Europe. The Mediterranean countries were not too interested in the tree, preferring to display only a Creche scene. Italy had a wooden triangle platform tree called as 'CEPPO'.
This had a Creche scene as well as decorations.
The German tree was beginning to suffer from mass destruction! It had become the fashion to lop off the tip off a large tree
to use as a Christmas Tree, which prevented the tree from growing further.
Statutes were made to prevent people having more than one tree.
Just as the first trees introduced into Britain did not immediately take off, the early trees introduced into America
by the Hessian soldiers were not recorded in any particular quantity.
The Pennsylvanian German settlements had community trees as early as 1747.

America being so large, tended to have 'pockets' of customs relating to the immigrants who had settled in a particular area, and it was not until the communications really got going in the 19th century, that such customs began to spread. Thus references to decorated trees in America before about the middle of the 19th century are very rare.
By the 1870's, Glass ornaments were being imported into Britain from Lauscha, in Thuringia. It became a status symbol to have glass ornaments on the tree, the more one had, the better ones status! Still many home-made things were seen.
The Empire was growing, and the popular tree topper was the Nation's Flag, sometimes there were flags of the Empire
and flags of the allied countries. Trees got very patriotic.
They were imported into America around 1880, where they were sold through stores such as FW Woolworth. They were quickly followed by American patents for electric lights (1882), and metal hooks for safer hanging of decorations onto the trees (1892)

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The American Tree
In America, Christmas Trees were introduced into several pockets - the German Hessian Soldiers took their tree customs in the 18th century. In Texas, Cattle Barons from Britain took their customs in the 19th century, and the East Coast Society
copied the English Court tree customs.
Settlers from all over Europe took their customs also in the 19th century. Decorations were not easy to find in the shanty towns of the West, and people began to make their own decorations. Tin was pierced to create lights and lanterns to hold candles which could shine through the holes. Decorations of all kinds were cutout, stitched and glued. The General Stores were hunting grounds for old magazines with pictures, rolls of Cotton Batting (Cotton Wool), and tinsel, which was occasionally sent from Germany or brought in from the Eastern States. The Paper 'Putz' or Christmas Crib was a popular feature under the tree, especially in the Moravian Dutch communities which settled in Pennsylvania.

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Choosing the Christmas Tree

 
Father and son venture out into the wintry woods to choose a Christmas tree.
By F. Kruger.

Franz Kruger painted this festive scene in the first half of the 19th century.
Kruger was a German artist who was born in Dessau in 1797, and died in Berlin in 1857.
Better known for his many portraits of German royals and aristocracy,
Kruger was, nonetheless, a competent landscape artist and genre painter,
as we can see here, in this old-fashioned Christmas holiday scene.

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A few more facts:

Germany is credited with starting the Christmas tree tradition as we now know it in the 16th century when devout Christians brought decorated trees into their homes. Some built Christmas pyramids of wood and decorated them with evergreens and candles if wood was scarce. It is a widely held belief that Martin Luther, the 16th-century Protestant reformer,
first added lighted candles to a tree. Walking toward his home one winter evening, composing a sermon,
he was awed by the brilliance of stars twinkling amidst evergreens. To recapture the scene for his family,
he erected a tree in the main room and wired its branches with lighted candles.

 


It is not surprising that, like many other festive Christmas customs, the tree was adopted so late in America.
To the New England Puritans, Christmas was sacred. The pilgrims's second governor, William Bradford, wrote that he tried hard to stamp out "pagan mockery" of the observance, penalizing any frivolity. The influential Oliver Cromwell preached against "the heathen traditions" of Christmas carols, decorated trees, and any joyful expression that desecrated "that sacred event."
 In 1659, the General Court of Massachusetts enacted a law making any observance of December 25 (other than a church service) a penal offense; people were fined for hanging decorations. That stern solemnity continued until the 19th century, when the influx of German and Irish immigrants undermined the Puritan legacy.

By the 1890s Christmas ornaments were arriving from Germany and Christmas tree popularity was on the rise around the U.S. It was noted that Europeans used small trees about four feet in height, while Americans liked their Christmas trees to reach from floor to ceiling.

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In the early 19th Century, 
the custom became popular among the nobility and spread to royal courts as far as Russia and Austria.
In France, the first Christmas tree was introduced in 1840 by the Duchess d'Orleans.


In Britain, the Christmas tree was introduced in the time of the personal union with Hanover, by George III's Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz in the early 19th century, but the custom hadn't yet spread much beyond the royal family. Queen Victoria as a child was familiar with the custom and a tree was placed in her room every Christmas. In her journal for Christmas Eve 1832, the delighted 13-year-old princess wrote, "After dinner… we then went into the drawing-room near the dining-room… There were two large round tables on which were placed two trees hung with lights and sugar ornaments. All the presents being placed round the trees…"

  In 1847, Prince Albert wrote:
"I must now seek in the children an echo of what Ernest (his brother) and I were in the old time,
of what we felt and thought; and their delight in the Christmas-tree is not less than ours used to be".

 read    here

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  In Denmark a Danish newspaper claims that the first attested Christmas tree was lit in 1808
by countess Wilhemine of Holsteinborg. It was the aging countess who told the story of the first Danish Christmas tree
to the Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen in 1865.
He had published a fairy-tale called The Fir Tree in 1844, recounting the fate of a fir-tree being used as a Christmas tree.


Dancing round the candlelit tree


 'Glade Jul' by Viggo Johansen, 1891

Dancing around a beautifully decked out Christmas Tree lit by dozens of twinkling candles, the children in Johansen Viggo's painting seem to be having a lot of fun. Painted in 1891, Viggo has perfectly captured a joyful family scene
that gives us a glimpse into family life at the end of the nineteenth century.
Viggo Johansen (1851-1935) was a Danish artist who painted with the Skagen Painters,
a group who met each year in the north of Jutland. Viggo exhibited in Paris from 1885, and he was greatly influenced by the work of the Impressionists, particularly that of Claude Monet. This influence is very apparent in much of his work from this period.

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Germany - 18th to early 20th centuries

 By the early 18th century, the custom had become common in towns of the upper Rhineland

 but it had not yet spread to rural areas. 

Wax candles, expensive items at the time, are found in attestations from the late 18th century

 

 


Along the lower Rhine, an area of Roman Catholic majority, the Christmas tree was largely regarded as a Protestant custom.
As a result, it remained confined to the upper Rhineland for a relatively long period of time. The custom did eventually gain wider acceptance, beginning around 1815, by way of Prussian officials who emigrated there following the Congress of Vienna.


 


In the 19th century,
the Christmas tree was taken to be an expression of German culture and of Gemütlichkeit,
especially among emigrants overseas.

 
"Under the Christmas tree" at Wallsee, Germany, 
newspaper illustration, 1916

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A decisive factor in winning general popularity was the German army's decision to place Christmas trees in its barracks
and military hospitals during the 1870-1871 war. Only at the start of the
20th century did Christmas trees appear inside churches, this time in a new brightly lit form.


  "The German Christmas tree" (Der deutsche Weihnachtsbaum)
in a field hospital in Versailles after the Franco-Prussian war, 1871

and...

...a "simple" Christmas tree
made by German Soldiers in Afghanistan in 2010

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Back to the 'past'.....



The tree was traditionally decorated with edibles such as apples, nuts or dates.
In the 18th century, it began to be illuminated by candles.



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  An angel or star may be placed at the top of the tree,
to represent the host of angels or the Star of Bethlehem from the Nativity.


  (1920's - from my family)

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Hedwig Mechle-Grosmann, um 1900

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An artistic "21th Century" Christmas tree by Kymberley Fraser

here

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'Quiet Christmas' 


Stille Weihnacht. Tonzeichnung von Th. Volz  
 Künstler-Postkarte der Familienzeitschrift "Das Buch für Alle".




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"Christmas-Tree"- music


by Franz Liszt

and

Oscar Peterson



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to be continued in my next post.....
...with the history of German Christmas-tree-decoration,


....antique and vintage.....

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In the meantime please visit Loi's blog:  Tone on Tone
here



Loi's recent post....



"Our Christmas Tree"
is wonderful!
And his collection of antique and vintage pieces - stunning!

http://toneontoneantiques.blogspot.fr/

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 sources of some text and images/illustrations:
some extracts from

THE CHRONOLOGICAL HISTORY OF THE CHRISTMAS TREE:

 by Countess Maria Hubert von Staufer

 http://www.christmasarchives.com/trees.html  

christmas markets: 

http://www.nikolaus-weihnachten.de/weihnachtsmotive/weihnachtsmarkt-bei-nacht.html

19 comments:

  1. Dear Karin ~

    Wow! Many thanks for this informative and comprehensive post! Talk about research. Thank you for all your work!! Wonderful illustrations you selected. I love that classic image of Victoria and Albert around their "tiered" tree. And how interesting about tinsel being made out of real silver. That must have been quite expensive.

    Thank YOU kindly for sharing the link to my post! I really appreciate it, and hope your readers will enjoy my humble little tree :)

    Happy Holidays!
    Warm greetings from DC~
    Loi

    ReplyDelete
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    1. My pleasure, Loi;
      I'm sure that all readers will enjoy your beautiful blog and your lovely tree!

      Delete
  2. Hello Karin

    I feel enlightened and knowledgeable about Christmas trees as a result of having read this post. Your family ornament is a treasure. I was particularly moved by the soldier's Christmas tree of 2010.

    Growing up in the west of Ireland Christmas trees were not a custom. I saw a picture of one in a magazine when I was about 8 yrs old and decided to go and find one on our farm, I found a furze bush - thorny and managed to cut a branch. Took it home and decided to decorate it with red balloons, well you guessed the balloons burst so red ribbons were the decoration.
    I worked for an airline and often the aeroplane was chartered to transport livestock.To deodorize and get rid of the smell of the livestock, we used fill the aircraft with Christmas trees and fly it around for an hour or so - worked like magic - the aircraft was now ready to transport passengers.

    Looking forward to your next post.

    I love Tone on Tone and really enjoy Loi's writing.

    Helen xx

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    1. This is the funniest story I've heard about Christmas trees - including the airing of the plane :) :) :)

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  3. Dear Karin what a most wonderful story of the history of Christmas
    and such gorgeous images from Christmas
    Oh and Loi is one of my very favorite bloggers!

    xoxo
    Karena
    2012 Artists Series

    ReplyDelete
  4. Dear Karin, You have given us the most wonderful Christmas present. Thank you for sharing and working so hard on this very informative post. It brought back beautiful childhood memories of Christmases that were simple yet meaningful. We didn't have much but Christmas always felt as if we were the most prviledged of them all.
    Wir wünschen dir und deinen Lieben ein sehr fröhliches Wheinachtsfest. ox, Gene and Gina

    ReplyDelete
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    1. I was hoping that you'll enjoy it, dear Gina!

      Delete
  5. I am amazed at this post. I do well to post one photo a day with a few sentences. This must take hours and hours but it is beautiful.
    Thank you!
    V

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Actually it took me nearly a week :)

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  6. This is a delight, and I am guilty of having a tree that touches my tall ceilings. I love your antique angel ornament and have about three or four ornaments that were on my first Christmas tree as a baby.

    I thought that I might see a kitty under one of those trees....

    Bises,
    Genie

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Oskar loves to sit next to the trees, thinking how to play with the balls - ha-ha !

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  7. I loved this post, Karin. History at its most pleasant, fascinating facts and many many illustrations.I'm sure that both in England and in the US the popularity of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol codified many customs and traditions as being the "real" Christmas.

    I grew up with Hanukah candles rather than Christmas trees, although I added the trees to my life when I became a Catholic when I was 48, and then we made up for lost time, gathering a great variety of ornaments very very quickly. But it was in Germany, not too long after, that I saw a Christmas tree up close ornamented most superbly, with real lighted candles!
    The grandmother of the family, while we were singing around the tree, stood a little bit too close, and her sweater began to smoulder until someone smelled the burning wool and slapped out the sparks. To this day we reminisce about the Christmas of the Burnt Grandmother ---
    Your family ornament is beautiful.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. We only use real candle lights, some visitors are a bit shocked or frighten.... but never had any accident - so far!
      Love the "Burnt Grandmother" story!

      Delete
  8. Une merveilleuse publication... Un sublime reportage accompagné de belles illustrations.
    J'aime sentir l'odeur du sapin dans la maison...

    Gros bisous.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Totally amazing post, thank you! Suzy x

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  10. Detailed pictures of the holiday season. Beautiful.

    ReplyDelete