Inventing the Christmas Tree

Inventing the Christmas Tree
Bernd Brunner
Yale University Press   108pp   £45

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'What drove people to go off into the forest, chop down a tree, decorate it?’ asks Bernd Brunner in his short history of the Christmas tree.

He answers with a wide- ranging exploration of the genesis of this symbol of the Christmas season probably first seen in central Europe during the winter solstice in the Middle Ages, becoming an accepted part of Christmas festivities in most European homes by the 19th century and soon the centrepiece of American Christmases too.

A felled evergreen tree bedecked with fruit, nuts, sweets, trinkets, candles and glass-blown decorations and topped with an angel, a fairy, a star or a bird, came to epitomise the domestic celebration of Christmas as well as the civic pride and commercial expectations lit up in town hall squares and shopping malls. The winter domesticated, the triumph of man over nature, an object to be chopped up and burned or put out for recycling on Twelfth Night in an undecking of the halls.

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