10 Christmas tree stories from around the world

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Here at Size of Wales, we love to celebrate the importance trees play in our everyday lives. So, as part of our Trees for Christmas campaign, we’ve looked up Christmas tree traditions from around the world and here are some of our favourites:

1. The story of the Christmas tree started well before Christmas

Evergreen trees and wreaths were seen as a symbol of eternal life in the culture of the ancient Egyptians, Chinese, and Hebrews.

Customs among European pagans included decorating homes with evergreens at New Year to scare away the devil and other wicked creatures. This tree tradition survived when Europeans began converting to Christianity.

2. Germany invented the modern Christmas tree tradition
A Christmas Tree in Dresden, Germany.

In the 16th Century, Christians in Western Germany began the tradition of putting up decorated trees in their homes for Christmas.

The tradition is partly derived from the “paradise tree”, a prop in a medieval play about Adam and Eve that was hung with apples to represent the Garden of Eden.

3. Kenya’s festive Cypress trees

Kenyan families often celebrate Christmas by decorating their homes with colourful decorations, balloons, flowers, and green leaves.

Many families also decorate beautiful Cypress trees, rather than the traditional fir trees that we’re used to in Wales.

4. Christmas trees take a decade to grow
A nearly ready crop of Xmas trees. Credit: Brian Burnett

The British public buys around 7 million real trees for Christmas each year and growing them is a year-round job.

The typical tree takes 10 years to grow from seed to being ready for the shops. Therefore the tree you put up this year was likely planted in 2011!

Remember to buy a sustainably-sourced tree if you can and recycle the tree through your local council when January comes.

5. In Ukraine, people decorate their trees with spider webs
Christmas spider ornament from Ukraine
A Ukrainian Christmas spider ornament. Credit: Erika Smith

In an old Ukrainian tale, spiders heard the sobs of children who went to bed with a bare tree on Christmas eve because they were too poor to afford decorations.

The spiders spun intricate webs on the tree overnight which turned into gold and silver when hit by the sun on Christmas morning.

In homage to this miracle, people decorate their trees with spider webs to this day for in good luck and fortune for the coming year.

6. Peru’s festive manger

Christmas traditions in Peru date back to 1535 and most people celebrate Christmas on 24th December, known as La Noche Buena (The Good Night).

Although Peruvians enjoy many common traditions, such as spending time with family and eating turkey, presents are usually placed around a nativity manger, known as a Pesebre.

7. Icelandic Yule Lads decorations

In Icelandic folklore, children are visited by the troll-like ‘Yule Lads’ 13 days before Christmas. Children traditionally leave out shoes that are filled with sweets if they have been good, or rotting potatoes if they have been bad.

Christmas trees across Iceland have ornament figures of the Yule Lads decorated on their trees.

8. Christmas trees were once hung upside down in some cultures

In a 7th Century tale, a Benedictine monk named Boniface taught the idea of the holy trinity to Pagans using an upside-down fir tree.

In an old Polish tradition called Podłazniczek, people use fruit, nuts, sweets wrapped in shiny paper, straw, ribbons, gold-painted pine cones to decorate a spruce tree hanging from the ceiling

This tradition has had a recent renaissance and singer Ariana Grande adopted an upside-down tree in 2018.

9. London’s annual Christmas tree comes from Norway

Trafalgar Square’s Christmas tree is one of the focal points of London’s decorations for the festive season.

Each year the tree makes its way from Nordmarka as a gift from the people of Norway for Britain’s support during the Second World War.

This tradition began in 1947, with the average tree towering at 30 feet in height and weighing around 4 tonnes.

10. The Welsh Holly Beating Tradition
A traditional Welsh Mari Lwyd
The infamous Mari Lwyd! Credit: R.Fiend.

This technically isn’t about trees, but we just had to have something Welsh in these stories!

There are many wonderful and weird old Welsh Christmas traditions (like the Mari Lwyd!), but one of the more cruel ones included beating people with holly.

The last person to wake up on Gwyl San Steffan (Boxing Day) would be beaten with branches of holly, sometimes until they bled. Ych â fi!

We hope you’ve enjoyed these Christmas tree stories and wish you a Merry Christmas from all of the Size of Wales team!

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