We’ve been delving into the tradition of decorated Christmas trees like the one portrayed on our 2013 Christmas coin.
In the past, evergreen shrubs and trees held special meaning for people during the depths of the northern winter. Pine, spruce and yew were used to brighten dwellings around the time of the winter solstice. Some people believed an evergreen sprig above the door would ward off evil spirits.
The first Christmas tree lit with candles is thought to have been the creation of religious reformer Martin Luther. It’s said he was inspired by the vision of stars twinkling among the evergreens on a winter’s night. Erected in Strasbourg Cathedral in 1539, his tree must have been a spectacular sight.
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert popularised Christmas trees during the 19th century.
When Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz moved to Britain to marry King George III in 1761, she took with her the German custom of adorning Christmas trees with wax tapers, coloured papers, fruit, trinkets and gifts. This ritual became popular with members of the British court and nobility.
It was not until the middle of the 19th century, however, that the practice became more widespread. Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s German-born husband, was particularly instrumental in popularising Christmas trees.
He used glass ornaments, coloured beads and paper baskets with sugared almonds for decoration. In 1848, an engraving of the Royal Family celebrating Christmas at Windsor beneath their dressed tree sparked extensive interest.
2013 Australian Christmas coin issued by The Perth Mint.
Early settlers in the Australian colonies were keen to remind themselves of home at Christmas – but had to make do with native flora. From the 1850s, branches of eucalypt, pink-coloured Christmas bush or scarlet Christmas Bells were used to decorate the house, roof, or veranda.
These days, local cultivation of traditional Christmas trees means that Australians tend to follow the original German custom more closely, using a mesmerising display of tinsel, baubles and glittering lights for decoration.
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