Christmas trees of Hampshire's past

Today we are taking a look at some historic photographs of Christmas trees in the collections we care for. Join Curatorial Assistant, Sam Butcher and learn about the history of Christmas trees and spot some decorated trees of Christmas past at some familiar sites in Hampshire.

Everyone is familiar with the story of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert sparking a Christmas tree craze in the 1840s and giving us some of our more modern Christmas traditions. In reality, the origins of greenery at this time of year go back much further.

The 21 December is winter solstice, marking the shortest day of the year. Throughout recorded history humans have celebrated this day as the beginning of the end of winter, looking forward to the new green shoots which will soon start to grow. The ancient Egyptians celebrated the rebirth of the sun god Ra by filling their homes with palms and rushes.

The ancient Roman god Saturn, the god of seeds and sewing, was worshiped through the Saturnalia festival. Aside from merry making, Romans would decorate their homes with holly with berries and other evergreens, much as many people do at Christmas today.

The humble fir tree at Christmas has older origins than the Victorians. According to legend, the English St Boniface travelled to Germany in the mid AD 700s. There, he was so horrified by pagans worshiping an oak tree that he chopped it down. On the spot, a fir tree grew, creating, as legend would have it, the first Christmas tree. One thing this tale does tell us for certain is that fir trees have been associated with Christmas for hundreds of years.

Whether you decorate your home with a real Christmas tree or put up your old faithful artificial one, you are carrying on the traditions which have taken place at this time of year for a millennia!

This selection of photographs from our historic photograph collection show how the people of Hampshire have continued these traditions.

Celebrating Christmas in St Paul's Hospital, Winchester in the late 1940s. © Hampshire Chronicle
Children receiving presents from beneath the Christmas tree in a Methodist Church Hall, Winchester. Taken in the 1940s. © Hampshire Chronicle
Basingstoke’s Christmas tree, taken in 1961 outside the Town Hall, now the Willis Museum.
Decorating a Christmas tree, taken in around 1950. © Hampshire Chronicle

To find out more about the collections cared for by Hampshire Cultural Trust, please follow the link below.

Online collections | Hampshire Cultural Trust Online Collections

This article was written by:
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Sam Butcher

Curatorial Assistant who looks after objects and works to make them accessible to the public.
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