It’s that time of the year again. And although things may be different than usual this season, it’s still the time for Christmas trees with all the trimming. But why do we put up a Nordmann fir, spruce, or blue spruce in our home? Why do we decorate and light our trees? And how much does the electricity needed for our Christmas lights cost us?
1. Apples and trees
There are many traditions and legends about why we put a green tree in our living rooms at Christmas time: Even in pre-Christian times, the Egyptians, Chinese and Hebrews regarded evergreen trees, wreaths and garlands as symbols of eternal life, while in Roman antiquity, for example, green laurel branches symbolized permanence and immortality.
For Christians, placing a tree in the living room at Christmas time is linked to the Bible. The Bible tells us that Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden for enjoying the apple on the Tree of Knowledge. This was pictorially depicted by the Church in the Middle Ages because many people couldn’t read or write. What could be more obvious than taking a tree that was still green in winter? Red apples hung on firs alluded to the forbidden fruit and were possibly the precursors of today’s Christmas baubles.
2. Festive tree decorations
Over time it became fashionable to festively decorate a green tree or twigs. The red apples were joined by nuts, fruit and other sweets, but it was not until the 16th or 17th century that lights in the form of candles lit up the festively decorated tree. Lighting of candles in the Advent season was common practice, and particularly in Germany, a burning candle in the window meant that house guests were welcome. And as more and more people took a liking to a glowing, brightly-lit Christmas tree, the trend of using candles as part of tree decorations quickly spread throughout Europe.
The illuminated Christmas tree was generally known throughout Germany and Austria by the end of the 19th century and was exported to many countries. In 1840, Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert of Saxony-Coburg, introduced the Christmas tree to the United Kingdom. The Netherlands, Russia and Italy also followed suit, and in 1837, Duchess Helene of Orleans brought the Christmas tree to France. In North America, the Christmas Tree was brought by German emigrants and sailors.
3. Electric Christmas Tree lights
For a long time, the candle remained the standard way of lighting up a Christmas Tree. This was to change at the end of the 19th century, when in 1882 in the USA, Edward Hibberd Johnson (business partner of Thomas Alva Edison) developed the first electric Christmas tree lights with a chain of 80 red, white, and blue lights. The idea that stemmed from a festive mood became a shining example and laid the foundation for the spread of the technology. As early as 1890, large American furniture and department stores could purchase the electric lights to decorate their shop windows at Christmas. And after the introduction of the first set of electric candles that lit up by simply plugging them into a socket in 1903, electric chain lights became a mass market product in most European countries by 1950.
4. Dreaming of a green Christmas
Up until a few years ago, most Christmas tree lights used filament technology. But now LED technology has become more and more popular, bringing with it a reduction in energy consumption and reduced running costs of Christmas tree lights. In fact, LED chain lights are much more economical consuming just 1/10th of the electricity required by filament lamps and means, when used, that our bright white, shining tree lights can also be a little greener this year.
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