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Why and how we set up a Christmas tree: history and suggestions

For many families, a decorated Christmas tree is the focal point of the Christmas party, belongs to Christmas as a crib and cookies. The tradition of putting a green tree in the living room is not so old compared to the birth of Jesus 2000 years ago. We reveal why we put a Christmas tree in the living room and give advice on how to set up the Christmas tree.

The story: why make a Christmas tree?

There are many myths about the history of the Christmas tree, the exact origin is not clear. The Christmas tree is originally a pagan custom, because evergreen plants were considered a symbol of fertility in pre-Christian religions. It was customary for ancient Germanic tribes to place fir branches in front of houses and in public places during the winter's feast. In the Middle Ages, trees were decorated on certain occasions, for example the May tree or during beautification ceremonies. The oldest tradition of a decorated Christmas tree dates back to 1419: in Freiburg im Breisgau, the guild of bakers is said to have set up a tree decorated with gingerbread, nuts and apples. In 1539, the guilds erected a large Christmas tree in Strasbourg cathedral and in 1570 children were allowed to 'shake it'; a tree covered with apples, nuts, savouries and paper flowers was put up for the festivities in a guild house in Bremen.

The guilds also put up a large Christmas tree in the cathedral.

Fir trees were very valuable in central Europe in the 18th century, so almost only rich citizens could afford a tree. Since the Catholic Church considered the nativity scene symbolically more important and the Christmas tree was considered a substitute for religious content for many Christians, it fought against this 'pagan' custom for a long time. It was only in the 19th century that the decorated Christmas tree became popular among the general public within their own four walls. The idea of the Christmas tree, i.e. spreading a Christmas atmosphere, decorating and giving presents under the tree, was eventually exported from Europe to the whole world.

How important is the Christmas tree in Germany?

Weihnachtsbäume werden auf landwirtschaftlichen Flächen angebautChristmas trees are grown specifically on farmland for Christmas.

According to a statistic, in 2019 around 29,8 million Christmas trees decorated living rooms in Germany - a record. If you compare the number of private households (41.5 million) with the number of trees sold, there is not a decorated tree in every home. To meet the high demand for Christmas trees, more than two million trees are imported every year, mainly from Scandinavian countries. Obviously, Christmas trees are no longer cut down in the forest, but are grown specially on agricultural land. Depending on the type of tree, it can take up to 12 years for a seed to grow into a fully grown Christmas tree.

By the way: according to the Federal Association of Christmas Tree Manufacturers in Germany, the trend is towards smaller trees between 1.50 and 1.75 metres. In addition, many Germans bring home an extra tree for their garden or terrace.

Tips for setting up the Christmas tree

Setting up a Christmas tree in the living room is a popular Christmas custom. Below are some tips on how to set up a Christmas tree.

Which tree is suitable as a Christmas tree?

If you look at sales statistics, Germans use fir trees most often as Christmas trees, followed by spruce and pine. Which tree to decorate your living room with depends on your preferences, available budget and intended use. The Nordmann spruce is the most common Christmas tree chosen by Germans but also the most expensive. Because it has to grow 12 to 14 years to reach room height. The lush green tree has soft needles that remain on the tree for weeks. Another advantage: the Nordmann spruce is easy to care for.

The red/blue spruce is also very popular as a Christmas tree. The tree with bluish or green needles that are pointed at the front, such as the Nordmann spruce, has a long service life and releases a pleasant, intense scent. The red spruce emits its characteristic scent in the living room, is undemanding and inexpensive. Unfortunately, it quickly loses its sharp needles in warm rooms.

When do you start decorating a Christmas tree?

ome families place the Christmas tree at home as early as Advent to create a pre-Christmas atmosphere. Traditionally, however, the Christmas tree is set up in the living room on 24 December and decorated with balls, candles and tinsel. The time of the decoration also determines how long the Christmas tree can spread its magic. Depending on the type of tree, it quickly loses its needles and dries out. How long can you actually leave the tree in the house? The tree should be disposed of around the time of the feast of Mary Candlemas at the latest, on 2 February, because in the past the feast marked the end of the Christmas period.

Tip:after buying it, you should keep the tree in the net in a place protected from the sun and wind; to prevent it from drying out, put it in a bucket of water.

How do you decorate the Christmas tree correctly?

When preparing the Christmas tree, you need to pay attention to a few things so that it does not topple over when presenting presents. Invest in a strong support with a metal cable to ensure safety. Also, make sure the stand has the correct diameter to keep the tree straight. The maximum diameter of the stand should be a few centimetres larger than the diameter of the tree trunk. Also, cut the trunk straight, remove the tree from the net the day before mounting it and ask a family member or friend for help with alignment. Position the trunk deep enough in the stand and use a pruning saw to remove unwanted branches.

Tip: so that the stand offers a good counterweight to hold the mast securely, you can also weigh it down with weights if necessary. Stands with a water tank are also available.

How to decorate the Christmas tree?

Weihnachtsbaum schmückenThe whole family helps to decorate the Christmas tree.

Once the Christmas tree has found a safe place, it is time to decorate it. If you are using a series of lights, the first thing to do is to attach them to the Christmas tree. Do this in a circular fashion, starting at the top of the tree and working your way down. Place the candles as far away as possible. Then hang the Christmas balls on the branches.

Large balls should find their place at the bottom of the tree, small and medium balls at the top. Heavy balls should be hung closer to the trunk, otherwise the weight will pull the branches downwards. If you decorate both outer and inner branches and twigs, the Christmas tree will gain a fascinating visual depth. Finally, decorate the tree with straw stars, small wooden figurines and tinsel.

Important: the decoration must be completely removed before the Christmas tree is disposed of.

How long does a Christmas tree last?

How long a Christmas tree lasts before it starts to dry out and lose its needles depends on various factors. Basically: Nordmann firs and noble firs last the longest, only losing their first needles after several weeks. So that the Christmas tree can spread its Christmas charm for as long as possible, these tips should be considered.

  • Do not place the Christmas tree directly next to the stove and avoid direct sunlight and draughts. This way the tree will not dry out so quickly.
  • A Nordmann spruce evaporates one to two litres of water per day, so it is always advisable to add water to keep the tree fresh for longer.
  • When purchasing, make sure that the tree has just been felled. You can tell by the interface: if it shines wet, the tree is fresh. On the other hand, if it has dried out, it is not for purchase.

How to dispose of a Christmas tree?

Weihnachtsbaum entsorgenThe Christmas tree is disposed of via the recycling centre or via municipal collection campaigns.

Between Christmas and the Epiphany, most families ask themselves: where should the Christmas tree be left? The first rule for disposal is: never dispose of a used Christmas tree in the open air or in the woods. There it simply takes too long for the tree to fully decompose. Moreover, if you are caught doing this, you will incur a hefty fine. Instead, many towns and communities offer free alternative disposal, for example through the recycling centre. In some communities, fir trees are also collected by associations or organisations. On collection day, simply place the tree by the roadside or at a designated collection point.

Artificial tree as ecological alternative?

To celebrate Christmas with an (ecologically) clear conscience, you can consider buying an artificial tree as an alternative to the classic Christmas tree. The studies shown that artificial fir trees must be maintained for a maximum of 20 years before they are ecologically amortised. A natural tree produces about 3.1 kg of carbon dioxide, while a plastic tree produces 48.3 kg of CO2. Tree decorations and disposal of the plastic spruce are not included in the calculation. A real Christmas tree also has the advantage of being able to store CO2 for many years of growth - a plastic tree does not offer this advantage. If you take environmental protection seriously, you will prefer a regional Christmas tree, which contributes little to CO2 pollution due to the short transport route.

Customs around the Christmas tree

The Christmas tree has created some beautiful and bizarre customs, which we will present to you briefly at this point.

Praise of the Christmas tree

Praise of the Christmas tree is an old custom in southern Germany in the period between Christmas and Epiphany. It probably originated at the end of the 19th century. It involves visiting neighbours and friends and praising their Christmas trees in the highest terms - irony is expressly allowed. At the end of the visit, the host gives a brandy to each person who loves Christmas trees.

Christmas tree throwing

This bizarre tradition comes from the Nordic countries and is gaining more and more followers in Germany. Children, women and men compete in their category with Christmas trees of different sizes. The winner is whoever throws the Christmas tree the furthest.

By the way: now that we know the history of the Christmas tree, why we have set up a Christmas tree and learned many Christmas tree tips. In our magazine we offer a lot more interesting information about Christmas, for example about other Christmas customs in Germany besides the Christmas tree. The nativity scene under the Christmas tree should not be missing either. We tell you about the history of the nativity scene, how to properly place the crib figures, or everything about the three Wise Kings. Have we been able to inspire you and put you in a Christmas mood? Then we invite you to take a little tour through our online shop. Discover a wide selection of hand-made high quality nativity set including the Nativity figures, with which to celebrate a wonderful Christmas.

Credits: main image: ©gettyimages/golero, image 1: ©gettyimages/ballycroy, image 2: ©gettyimages/SolStock, image 3: ©gettyimages/axelbueckert

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