Did People Really Put Candles on the Christmas Tree?

Did People Really Put Candles on the Christmas Tree?

One way to set off the Christmas season is putting up a well lit Christmas tree. Believe it or not people did put candles on their Christmas trees and I think it looked cool as hell. It is known that evergreens were adopted by early civilizations who used the evergreen plants and trees to symbolize life in the dead of winter. They used the life of evergreens to ward off dead spirits throughout the winters. It was later German tradition that adopted the tradition of a candle lit Christmas tree which later found its way to America in the 1800's.

Christmas-tree market on West Street across from Pier 21, near Duane Street in New York City, (around 1910 to 1915).

Christmas-tree market on West Street across from Pier 21, near Duane Street in New York City, (around 1910 to 1915).

 

Many people note that Martin Luther, who was a German priest in the 1500's, was the first person to put lit candles on a Christmas tree. As he walked home one winter night while writing a sermon, he was amazed by how bright the stars were among the evergreens. To show his family what it was like, he put up a tree in the main room and put lit candles on its branches. Since firs and other evergreen trees were widespread at the time in northern Europe, they came to be considered as the "traditional" Christmas tree.

 Nordic Christmas with candles and candle holders on the tree – a studio photo from the late 1800s.

Nordic Christmas with candles and candle holders on the tree – a studio photo from the late 1800s.

 

Historians note that German Christians brought decorated trees into their homes in the 1600s, which is when the Christmas tree tradition as we know it today began. Although Christmas trees had been a habit in many German houses even earlier, the earliest instance of one being on display in America was by the German immigrants of Pennsylvania in the 1830s. The Illustrated London News published a picture in 1846 of Queen Victoria and her German Prince, Albert, standing in front of a Christmas tree with their children. Queen Victoria was incredibly well-liked by her people, and her actions were influential. Her styles and traditions were fashionable to not just in Britain but also among the stylish American socials on the east coast. The tree for Christmas traditions had fully arrived.

 

Queen Victoria decorating her tree with the Royal Family

The Queen’s Christmas tree at Windsor Castle published in The Illustrated London News, 1848.

 Queen Elizabeth with the tree

Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip gazing at their Christmas tree.

 

Candles would have been used to make the tree look like stars and candles on the tree became mainstream in the British Victorian era. There are still candles on Christmas trees in many parts of Europe. Countries that heavily adopted the candles on the branches were Greenland, Ireland, Italy, Japan,  but none more then Germany. In Greenland, Christmas trees have to be imported due to the fact that they do not grow that far north… but they are imported from other countries such as Denmark. In Greenland the candles are still a focal point of Christmas tradition. The candles are lit on the Christmas tree on the first Sunday of Advent.

1871-christmas-tree for german soliders in a hospital

 Christmas tree for Germán soldiers in a hospital, 1871.

 In 1885, candles on a Christmas tree caused a hospital in Chicago to burn down. Insurance companies tried to get a law passed in 1908 that would make it illegal to use candles on Christmas trees because they had caused so many fires, didn’t happen. People still lit Christmas trees with candles, and there were more fires. Like many styles and trends of the past, there is a new buzz about decorating your Christmas tree with candles.

 Christmas in Victorian Era, Woman returning home from tree farm in 1895.

Christmas in Victorian Era, Woman returning home from tree farm in 1895.

 

Christmas Tree earliest notes in history:

  • The cities of Tallinn in Estonia and Riga in Latvia dispute who used a tree for Christmas and New Year celebrations first. (Tallinn in 1441 and Riga in 1510.)
  • The plaque "The First New Year's Tree in Riga in 1510" may be seen in the town square of Riga, the capital of Latvia.
  • A picture from 1521 illustrates a tree being paraded through the streets of Germany, led by a man on a horse. The man, who may be dressed as St. Nicholas, was outfitted as a bishop.
  • The historian Balthasar Russow described a custom in 1584 that involved young men going with a group ladies in Riga (Latvia), singing and dancing in the market square before lighting a decorated fir tree on fire.
  • Queen Charlotte, the German wife of King George III, probably put up the first Christmas tree in the UK. (late 1700's)
  • There's no mention of a Christmas Tree in 'A Christmas Carol' by Charles Dickens, which was published in 1843.
  • One of the most well-known is the tree in London's Trafalgar Square, which Norway gives to the UK every year as a "thank you" for the help the UK gave Norway during World War II.

 

Soldiers on their position at Hill 875 near Dakto, a few days after the North Vietnamese Army made a massive assault, on December 25, 1967.

Soldiers on their position at Hill 875 near Dakto, a few days after the North Vietnamese Army made a massive assault, on December 25, 1967.

 

Happy-Holidays-Film-Photography-from-Warsaw

Holidays Film Photography from Warsaw.

  

 

A vintage 1910 Christmas tree, couple in Berlin, Germany.

A vintage 1910 Christmas tree, couple in Berlin, Germany.