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Project Britain

British Christmas Traditions
by Mandy Barrow

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Christmas Trees

Woodlands Junior School is in the south-east corner of England

Most houses in Britain, will have a tree of some sort or other which they will decorate and will place the presents under.

Christmas tree

The traditional Christmas tree is a fir tree but now-a-days more people buy artificial trees to 'save the earth'. The decorating of the tree is usually a family occasion, with everyone helping.

image: tree decorations
Tinsel, chocolates and fairy lights

The Christmas tree became popular in England in 1841 when Queen Victoria's husband, Prince Albert, brought a Christmas tree over from Germany and put it in Windsor Castle. The Royal couple were illustrated in a newspaper standing around the Christmas tree with their children, and the tradition of decorating a tree became fashionable.


Decorations on Christmas Trees

image: Christmas treeDuring the Victorian times, Christmas trees were decorated with candles to remind children of the stars in the sky at the time of the birth of Jesus. Using candles was, of course, a great fire hazard. Today, candles have been replaced by little coloured electric lights, more a reminder of the fairground than the sacred symbolisation of the 'Light of the World'.

Christmas trees were also decorated with sweets and cakes hung with ribbon. In 1880, Woolworths first sold manufactured Christmas tree ornaments which proved to be very popular.

Today, Christmas trees are decorated with tinsel, lights and small ornaments which hang from the branches. Chocolate coins or chocolate shapes are also hung on the Christmas tree and the presents are put under the tree.


An angel or star is usually put on the very top of the tree. The angel reminds Christians of the angel who brought glad tidings of great joy to the shepherds in the field.

Fairy lights


Why do we decorate the Christmas tree?

Long time ago people used to decorate trees outside each winter. When the trees had lost their leaves, it was felt that the spirits living in the trees had abandon them. This made people very worried because they believed that without tree-spirits the trees would not grow leaves ever again. © copyright of

To encourage the tree-spirits to return they dressed the trees with strips of coloured cloth. They hoped by making the trees look beautiful, the spirits would return to live in the trees ready for Spring. To everyone's delight this worked and every year, in spring, the trees burst into leaf again. © copyright of

When the new custom of bringing small fir trees indoors started in Germany, it was natural enough to add similar decorations to them, even though fir trees had not lost their leaves.

Over time people add different decorations. They added strings of beads and fruit, gingerbreads and sweets were hung from the branches. visit for more information


The most Famous Christmas Tree in Britain

In London, near the statue of Lord Nelson in Trafalgar Square, a giant Christmas tree is set up and decorated with great ceremony each year. The tree is a thank you gift from the people of Oslo, Norway. During the Second World War, King Haakon of Norway was forced into exile in England when the Germans occupied his country. Since 1947, Norway has expressed its thanks for the help of the British people by continuing to send a huge Norwegian spruce to be shared by all.

Interesting Fact
Trees were decorated with apples, cakes and sweets for many centuries.


Recycling Christmas Trees

Christmas trees are biodegradable - the trunk and branches can be used as mulch for gardens. The mulch provides a protect barrier for the roots of other plants and vegetation while preventing weeds from growing. The mulch then decomposes, providing the nutrients plants need to thrive.


A Christmas Tree story

There was once a monk named St Boniface who chopped down a huge oak tree. As it fell to the earth the oak tree split into four pieces and from its center sprung up a young fir tree.

“This little tree shall be your Holy Tree tonight. It is the tree of peace for your houses are built of the fir. It is the sign of endless life for its leaves are evergreen. See how it points toward the heavens? Let this be called the tree of the Christ Child. Gather about it, not in the wilderness, but in your homes. There it will be surrounded by loving gifts and rites of kindness.”

To this day, that is why the fir tree is a symbol of Christmas.

See also Christmas Decorations in England

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Mandy is the creator of the Woodlands Resources section of the Woodlands Junior website. 
The two websites and are the new homes for the Woodlands Resources.

Mandy left Woodlands in 2003 to work in Kent schools as an ICT Consulatant. 
She now teaches computers at The Granville School and St. John's Primary School in Sevenoaks Kent.