Millions of Christmas trees will illuminate the dark winter nights across the UK and Germany this festive season. A happy family standing beside a twinkling, decorated tree is the image we associate with the season above all else.
The idea of using greenery at celebrations is not a new one - the Romans were some of the first to do it. They decorated plants with golden suns, ribbons and the face of the god Janus to celebrate Saturnalia. The plants were decorated where they grew rather than being cut and brought into the home. The pagans also used evergreen plants to brighten up the long winter months. They were used at the winter solstice to remind them of the coming of spring. Greenery has played an important role in mid-winter festivals throughout history.
It was in Germany that the first Christmas trees were invented. In medieval Germany holly, juniper, ivy and other evergreen plants were used as the Pagans had done although they were brought into home. The ritual of placing a tree in the home is rooted in a medieval play known as 'The Paradise Play' which was performed on the 24th December to venerate Adam and Eve - it is within this mystery play that the first Paradise tree appeared. Adorned with red apples, it was there to serve as the Garden of Eden in the play.
With time the mystery plays disappeared yet in Germany the paradise tree was maintained by families as a way of remembering the parents of humanity. They continued to use apples as well as wafers to symbolise the Eucharist to decorate the tree. Candles were used to illuminate the branches in a way similar to the ring of candles that used surround the Paradise Tree.
This custom progressed and in 1419 a baker in Freiburg is recorded to have erected the first tree with edible decorations. Families began to bring evergreen trees into their homes and even in the areas of Germany where these were not easily obtained the tradition continued in a more innovative form.
The Weihnachtspyramiden was a pyramid of branches which would then be covered in pine leaves and decorated – it would to look very similar to a tree.
By the nineteenth century Christmas trees were established as a tradition in Germany. The apples and edible decorations were replaced by glass baubles invented by Jans Greiner in the German town of Lauscha.
Prince Albert the German husband to Queen Victoria is often held responsible for the Christmas tree being brought to England. When an image of the Royal family alongside their gleaming Christmas tree was published in a London paper it started a craze which has never gone out of fashion. It was Queen Charlotte who is truly to be thanked for importing the idea to the UK. She continued many of the practices she had grown up with in Germany when she came to England. She was the German wife of King George III and decorated her tree in the late seventeenth century.
In the UK we still associate Christmas with the Victorians but we must thank medieval Germany for the tree and the little known town of Lauscha for the delicate glass ornaments we love to hang on tree branches this day.
Make Edible Tree Decorations – Baiserringe
Baiserringe are easy to make German decorations.
What you will need:
3 Egg whites
150g caster sugar
How to make them:
Switch the oven to 100°C. Place baking paper on two or three baking trays.
On each sheet of paper draw a few shapes - circles or hearts are traditional but you can be as creative as you like.
Beat the egg whites (an electric whisk is a must unless you want a very achy arm) until they form peaks.
Add the sugar a little at a time and fold in.
Put some of the mixture in a separate bowl and colour
Spoon some into the piping bag.
Pipe blobs along the outlines oft the shapes you have drawn.
Sprinkles or glitter can be added at this stage.
Pop the trays in the oven for 30 – 40nminues until they are firm.
Switch off the oven but leave the trays in for the same length of time. Leave the door slightly ajar. This will let them crisp up.
Let them cool.
Add edible glitter.
Very delicately tie think ribbon around the decorations and hang on your tree.
They are quite magical to behold and extremely tasty.