The Christmas Tree

Our lecture on December 7th. was given by Dr. Claire Walsh entitled  ‘The Christmas Tree’

Dr. Walsh began her lecture by reminding us that the tree has always had importance with its natural significance though meanings have changed over the years. Many religions and cultures have a tree central to it.

Christmas traditions vary across Europe because early Christians allowed existing pagan traditions to be incorporated.The Puritans banned Christmas completely. With Luther came the abolishing of rituals , including the bringing in of trees. The evergreen fir returned as a symbol  through art. e.g. Koch The Schmadribach Falls (1811) and Caspar David Friedrich ‘The Cross in the Mountains’ (1807-1808). This was the first painting where the artist used pure landscape as an altarpiece. It was slated by the critics .In this painting the oak tree represents death and the evergreen represents  life and Christianity.In  his ‘Winter Landscape with Church’ (1811 app. ) the evergreen tree mimics the shape of the tower of a church.

This is a transition point and by the early 19th. century it is becoming OK to bring a fir tree into the house in Northern European countries though the Catholic Church would not allow it officially until 1935 ! In 19th. century Britain there was the rise of politeness and jollity at Christmas was looked down on by the gentry and they had a ‘low key’ Christmas. Then in 1843 The Christmas Carol by Dickens was published. He wanted to reinvigorate Christmas, focussing on the home. .

Since the 1790s there had been a Christmas tree at Windsor because of Queen Charlotte. and in 1848 the Royal Christmas Tree was published in The Illustrated London News. The symbolism may have been the bringing inside of something from outside. From about 1848 the Christmas tree became a focus of Christmas celebrations in Britain.

In 1891 Viggo Johansen painted ‘Silent Night’ which highlighted the family Christmas.

The tree was used in a more sinister context by Nash in 1919  in his painting  ‘We Are Building a New World ‘