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Explore the origin of the Christmas tree

The second Christmas tree on record in Canada was erected right here in Halifax
(stock photo)

What would Christmas be without a decorated tree to put presents under?

Christmas trees are deeply rooted in our Canadian cultural traditions, but the curator of the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 says that wasn't always the case.

"They came to Canada with German immigrants," Dan Conlin told CityNews Halifax. 

"Christmas trees emerged in the 1500s in Germany with the Lutheran Church and it was just sort of part of the northern German subculture until German immigrants started coming to North America."

The first documented Christmas tree in Canada was put up by a German soldier serving with the British in Sorel, Quebec.

"He invited a bunch of friends over on Christmas Eve, and on that 1781 evening they were amazed to see this tree that had been chopped down, brought inside the house and was covered in candles," Conlin explained. "It was much talked about."

The second Christmas tree on record in Canada was erected right here in Halifax.

A German woman named Mary Barbara Foss moved to our city to marry prominent merchant William Pryor.

"She made a very powerful impression in 1846 when she invited folks over," Conlin said. "She had a Christmas tree in her house, which was very unusual at the time."

"Not only that, she had all these beautiful glass ornaments on it, glass beads and round glass balls which were a German glassblowing tradition. It was a marvel!"

Two years later, Christmas trees vaulted into the mainstream thanks to England's Queen Victoria.

"She fell in love with a German prince, Prince Albert, and she put up a Christmas tree in Windsor Castle in 1848, and the British press just went crazy about it," Conlin stated. "Queen Victoria was a great influencer for social trends in the 19th century and suddenly everybody wanted Christmas trees."

"It's a good reminder that, something that we think of as a holiday tradition that's been here forever was once kind of a strange tradition that was brought here by immigrants."

You can find more information about the origin of Christmas trees in Canada, along with roots of German heritage in Canada in a special exhibit at the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21.

Check out Canada and Germany: Partners from Immigration to Innovation until January 22.

Meghan Groff

About the Author: Meghan Groff

Born in Michigan, raised in Ontario, schooled in Indiana and lives in Nova Scotia; Meghan is the editor for CityNews Halifax.
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