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Christmas traditions: Why do we put up trees?

Decorating a Christmas tree is one of the most festive parts of the holiday season, but why do we do it?

Decorated Christmas trees were not popular in rural Canada until 1930s

Putting up a large Christmas tree is one of the most festive moments of the holiday season, but the tradition is relatively new. (Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press)

Decorating a Christmas tree is one of the most festive parts of the holiday season, but why do we do it?

According to the Virtual Museum of Canada, a website run by the Canadian Museum of History, decorative symbols including trees have been used since the 11th century by Christians to symbolize motifs such as peace and renewal during the Advent season.

Even before that, the Celtic Druids used to decorate their temples with evergreen boughs as a symbol of everlasting life

However, it wasn't until the 15th century that people began bringing trees into their home during Christmas. 

One legend suggests it was the famous reformer Martin Luther who started the tradition in what is now Germany.

As the story goes, Luther was out walking one cold Christmas Eve when he was caught by the light sparkling off icicles on evergreen trees.

He then apparently brought the tree home and placed candles in the tree to remind his family that Jesus was the light of the world.

Tradition spreads to Canada, U.S.

There's no way to know whether that story is true, but by the 18th century Christmas trees had become a tradition in Germany and began spreading to countries like Denmark.

There's even a fairy tale by Hans Christian Anderson, the Danish children's writer, about a young fir tree cut down to be decorated as a Christmas tree.

German emigrants brought the Christmas tree tradition to Canada during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, but Christmas trees only became popular among the English nobility and middle classes after Queen Victoria and her German husband, Albert, put up a tree at Windsor Castle in 1841.

Then, as now, anything the royals did quickly sparked imitations, but for most people at the time the fashion was to have a small Christmas tree standing on a white linen table.

Around 1900, the decorated full-size Christmas tree became a more common sight in homes after the invention of the first metal tree stands.

It wasn't until the 1930s that putting up a decorated Christmas tree became common practice among the working classes in Canada and England.

The rest, as they say, is history.

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