Each year, when the weather gets colder and December approaches, many Americans who celebrate Christmas will get together to decorate a Christmas tree. But why in the world do we decorate these (often artificial) fir trees in the first place?
It turns out, the meaning behind Christmas trees as holiday decor goes back further than you might realize.
Both the ancient Egyptians and Romans saw the bright hue of plants that remained green all year, such as palm rushes and evergreen boughs, as a way to give warmth and hope to people during the winter, according to History.com.
Ancient people would mark the winter solstice (the shortest day and longest night of the year, which typically falls on December 21 or December 22) by using evergreens. These plants served as a sunny reminder that other greens would grow again once spring and summer returned.
People in some countries believed evergreens stood for everlasting life and even had the ability to ward off evil spirits and illnesses—another reason for the tradition of hanging evergreen boughs above doorways and inside homes.
Some say the first-ever Christmas tree was in London, near what is now Leadenhall Market. However, it seems it was a one-time trend, as Christmas trees wouldn’t be back in Britain until the 19th century.
Many believe Martin Luther, the Protestant reformer, began the tradition of adding lighted candles to a tree, which is why we decorate trees with strands of lightbulbs today. The story goes that while Luther was walking home one winter evening, he saw twinkling stars among evergreens and wanted to re-create the magical moment for his family.
While Christmas trees were appearing in Germany years earlier, the trend really caught on after writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe visited Strasbourg, near the German border, and included the concept in his novel, The Sorrows of Young Werther.
The first record of a decorated evergreen tree in America was that of German settlers in Pennsylvania.
Queen Victoria, German Prince Albert, and their children were shown standing around a Christmas tree in the Illustrated London News. Because Victoria was very popular with her subjects at that time, the Christmas tree trend took off in both Britain and the East Coast of the United States.
When Edward H. Johnson, the vice president of Edison’s Electric Light company, decorated a tree with 80 red, white, and blue lightbulbs and displayed it in his New York City window, a newspaper in Detroit helped him earn the title “Father of the Electric Christmas Tree.”
Some Americans were still skeptical about using electric lights on their Christmas trees, although apparently not President Grover Cleveland. He is said to have introduced the first electrically lit White House Christmas tree.
General Electric began selling Christmas light kits so that people could decorate their Christmas trees more easily than ever.
But it was Albert Sadacca who is believed to have really made Christmas tree lights mainstream. The New York teenager had heard about a candlelit tree that burst into flames and started stringing lights for his family’s novelty business. Painting the bulbs proved to be the ticket—and one day his business became NOMA Electric Company (National Outfit Manufacturer’s Association), the largest Christmas light manufacturer in the world for many years.
The first Christmas tree went up in Rockefeller Center—only it was a lot smaller than the ones debuted these days. And instead of an official lighting before a crowd of spectators, this one was orchestrated by construction workers.
Two years later, a lighted tree was placed in Rockefeller Center, sparking the city’s annual tradition.
After a rich history, Christmas trees (both real and artificial) have become the centerpiece of the season—and a classic Christmas tradition that doesn’t appear to be going anywhere anytime soon.
There’s a range of new titles popping up too, and less familiar names – though Designated Survivor is back along with Riverdale Season Two on October 12.
The Day I Met El Chapo is worth a punt as well if you’re not checking out the classic The Little Mermaid and Ace Ventura.
There’s quite a bit to keep you occupied as the night’s get colder. So huddle up under your blanket, get that junk food ready (or wine, we’re not averse to a glass of wine) and get watching.
Here’s what to watch on Netflix this October.
Ace Ventura: Pet Detective
Bitten: Season 3
Boys in the Trees
Equestria Girls: Tales of Canterlot High: Season 1
Ernesto Guevara – El Che
Fish Don’t Blink
For a Few Dollars More
Forever the Moment
Generation Iron 2
Good Will Hunting
Grean House: Season 1
Ha Unlimited 1
Ha Unlimited 2
Horror Story: Season 1
How to Steal a Dog
I’m in Love with a Church Girl
It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World
Joint Security Area
Kon Kon Kon: Season 1
Like Water for Chocolate
Lockup: Disturbing the Peace: Collection 1
Men on a Mission: Series 1
My Bromance: Season 1
Part Time the Series: Season 1
Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
The Bounce Back
The Extra: Season 1
The Lion Woman
The Perfect Guy
The President’s Barber
The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio
The School: Season 1
The Time of Their Lives
Time Travel: Season 1
Timeline: Season 1
Too Much Stress From My Heart
What She Put on the Table: Season 1
When Calls the Heart: Season 4
Whitechapel: Season 4
Wrong Side Raju
Footprints in the Sand: Season 1
In Laws: Season 1
La Femme: Season 1
Laws of Attraction: Season 1
Moving on: Season 1
Mr. Dynamite: The Rise of James Brown
Chesapeake Shores: Season 2
NETFLIX ORIGINAL Rodney Carrington: Here Comes The Truth
Robin Hood: Men in Tights
NETFLIX ORIGINAL Bonus Family (Bonusfamiljen): Season 1
NETFLIX EXCLUSIVE Designated Survivor: Season 2 (new episodes weekly)
It Was Fifty Years Ago Today! The Beatles: Sgt Pepper And Beyond
Auntie Duohe: Season 1
NETFLIX ORIGINAL ID-0: Season 1
Kibaoh Klashers: Season 2
NETFLIX ORIGINAL Kidnap
NETFLIX ORIGINAL Skylanders Academy: Season 2
NETFLIX ORIGINAL Suburba: Season 1
NETFLIX ORIGINAL The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson
NETFLIX ORIGINAL Word Party: Season 3
Chris Brown: Welcome To My Life
Mossad 101: Season 2
NETFLIX ORIGINAL 6 Days
Barakah Meets Barakah
Chesapeake Shores: Season 2
NETFLIX ORIGINAL Christina P: Mother Inferior
Once Upon a Time Season 7
The Little Mermaid
NETFLIX EXCLUSIVE Dynasty: Season 1 (new episodes weekly)
NETFLIX ORIGINAL Fe de etarras
NETFLIX EXCLUSIVE Riverdale: Season 2 (new episodes weekly)
NETFLIX ORIGINAL El Especial de Alex Fernández, el Especial
NETFLIX ORIGINAL Kingdom of Us
NETFLIX ORIGINAL Mindhunter: Season 1
NETFLIX ORIGINAL Super Monsters: Season 1
NETFLIX ORIGINAL The Babysitter
NETFLIX ORIGINAL The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
NETFLIX ORIGINAL Voltron: Legendary Defender: Season 4
Jane The Virgin S4
Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls
Aji Bas Shukriya
Alibaba Aur 40 Chor
Belief: The Possession of Janet Moses
LEGO: City: Season 1
Power Rangers Ninja Steel: Season 1
Power Rangers Series 2017: Season 1
Pyar Ke Do Pal
Siffredi Late Night – Hard Academy: Season 1
The New Guy
West Coast Customs: Season 6
Live from the BBC: Season 1
NETFLIX ORIGINAL Patton Oswalt: Annihilation
What We Did on Our Holiday
NETFLIX ORIGINAL 1922
NETFLIX ORIGINAL Haters Back Off: Season 2
NETFLIX ORIGINAL One of Us
NETFLIX ORIGINAL The Day I Met El Chapo: The Kate del Castillo Story
NETFLIX ORIGINAL Wheelman
Scorpion: Season 3
NETFLIX ORIGINAL Wanted: Season 1
NETFLIX ORIGINAL Wanted: Season 2
NETFLIX ORIGINAL Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold
NETFLIX ORIGINAL Stranger Things: Season 2
NETFLIX ORIGINAL Judah Friedlander: America Is The Greatest Country In The United States
Max 2: White House Hero
NETFLIX ORIGINAL Zumbo’s Just Desserts: Season 1
We’ll have the November listings next month.
What is bonfire night?
November 5 – which this year falls on a Saturday – commemorates the failure of the November 1605 Gunpowder Plot by a gang of Roman Catholic activists led by Warwickshire-born Robert Catesby.
When Protestant King James I acceded to the throne, English Catholics had hoped that the persecution they had felt for over 45 years under Queen Elizabeth I would finally end, and they would be granted the freedom to practice their religion.
When this didn’t transpire, a group of conspirators resolved to assassinate the King and his ministers by blowing up the Palace of Westminster during the state opening of Parliament.
Guy (Guido) Fawkes, from York, and his fellow conspirators, having rented out a house close to the Houses of Parliament, managed to smuggle 36 barrels of gunpowder into a cellar of the House of Lords – enough to completely destroy the building.
(Physicists from the Institute of Physics later calculated that the 2,500kg of gunpowder beneath Parliament would have obliterated an area 500 metres from the centre of the explosion).
The scheme began to unravel when an anonymous letter was sent to William Parker, the 4th Baron Monteagle, warning him to avoid the House of Lords.
The letter (which could well have been sent by Lord Monteagle’s brother-in-law Francis Tresham), was made public and this led to a search of Westminster Palace in the early hours of November 5.
Explosive expert Fawkes, who had been left in the cellars to set off the fuse, was caught when a group of guards discovered him at the last moment.
Fawkes was arrested, sent to the Tower of London and tortured until he gave up the names of his fellow plotters.
Lord Monteagle was rewarded with £500 plus £200 worth of lands for his service in protecting the crown.
Who were the Gunpowder Plot conspirators?
Guy Fawkes, Thomas Bates, Robert and Thomas Wintour, Thomas Percy, Christopher and John Wright, Francis Tresham, Everard Digby, Ambrose Rookwood, Robert Keyes, Hugh Owen, John Grant and the man who organised the whole plot – Robert Catesby.
The conspirators were all either killed resisting capture or – like Fawkes – tried, convicted, and executed.
The traditional death for traitors in 17th-century England was to be hanged, drawn and quartered in public. But this proved not to be the 35-year-old Fawkes’s fate.
As he awaited his punishment on the gallows, Fawkes leapt off the platform to avoid having his testicles cut off, his stomach opened and his guts spilled out before his eyes.
Mercifully for him, he died from a broken neck but his body was subsequently quartered, and his remains were sent to “the four corners of the kingdom” as a warning to others.
Following the failed plot, Parliament declared November 5th a national day of thanksgiving, and the first celebration of it took place in 1606.
Following the plot, King James I sought to control non-conforming English Catholics in England. In May 1606, Parliament passed ‘The Popish Recusants Act’ which required any citizen to take an oath of allegiance denying the Pope’s authority over the king.
Observance of the 5th November Act, passed within months of the plot, made church attendance compulsory on that day and by the late 17th Century, the day had gained a reputation for riotousness and disorder and anti-Catholicism. William of Orange’s birthday (November 4th) was also conveniently close.
Guy Fawkes Day today
The Houses of Parliament are still searched by the Yeomen of the Guard before the state opening, which has been held in November since 1928. The idea is to ensure no modern-day Guy Fawkes is hiding in the cellars with a bomb, although it is more ceremonial than serious. And they do it with lanterns.
The cellar that Fawkes tried to blow up no longer exists. In 1834 it was destroyed in a fire which devastated the medieval Houses of Parliament.
Guy Fawkes Day is celebrated in the United Kingdom, and in a number of countries that were formerly part of the British Empire, with fireworks, bonfires and parades. Straw dummies representing Fawkes are tossed on the bonfire, as well as those of contemporary political figures.
Dummies have been burned on bonfires since as long ago as the 13th century, initially to drive away evil spirits. Following the Gunpowder Plot, the focus of the sacrifices switched to Guy Fawkes’ treason.
Traditionally, these effigies called ‘guys’, are carried through the streets in the days leading up to Guy Fawkes Day and children ask passers-by for “a penny for the guy.” Today the word ‘guy’ is a synonym for ‘a man’ but originally it was a term for an “repulsive, ugly person” in reference to Fawkes. The fireworks represent the explosives that were never used by the plotters.
In Ottery St Mary, south Devon, in a tradition dating from the 17th century, barrels soaked in tar are set alight and carried aloft through parts of the town by residents. Only Ottregians – those born in the town, or who have lived there for most of their lives – may carry a barrel. Lewes, in southeastern England, is also the site of annual celebration. Guy Fawkes Day there has a distinctly local flavour, involving six bonfire societies whose memberships are grounded in family history stretching back for generations. The only place in the UK that does not celebrate Guy Fawkes Night is his former school St. Peter’s in York. They refuse to burn a guy out of respect for one of their own.
At a glance – 7 things you never knew about Guy Fawkes
- 1. Guy Fawkes did not die from being hung, drawn and quartered:
- As he awaited his grisly punishment on the gallows, Fawkes leapt to his death – to avoid the horrors of having his testicles cut off, his stomach opened and his guts spilled out before his eyes. He died from a broken neck.
- 2. Guy Fawkes was not the Gunpowder Plot’s ringleader:
- There were 13 conspirators in the plot, which was masterminded by Robert Catesby, a charismatic Catholic figure who had a reputation for speaking out against the English crown. But it was Fawkes who gained notoriety after the plot was foiled, for he was caught after sneaking into the cellar beneath the House of Lords to ignite the explosives.
- 3. Guy Fawkes won the unlikely admiration of King James I:
- Fawkes withstood two full days of torture and expressed his regret at having failed his mission. His steadfast manner earned him the praise of King James, who described Fawkes as possessing “a Roman resolution”.
- 4. Guy Fawkes has an island named after him:
- He is one of Britain’s most infamous villains, whose effigy has been burned and whose demise has been publicly celebrated for more than four centuries. Yet to the north-west of Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos Islands, a collection of two uninhabited, crescent-shaped islands is named Isla Guy Fawkes, or Guy Fawkes Island.
- 5. The Houses of Parliament are still searched once a year to make sure there are no conspirators hiding with explosives:
- Before the annual State Opening of Parliament, the Yeomen of the Guard search the Houses of Parliament to make sure there are no would-be conspirators hiding in the cellars. This has become more of a tradition than a serious anti-terrorist precaution.
- 6. The cellar that Fawkes tried to blow up no longer exists:
- It was destroyed in a fire in 1834 that devastated the medieval Houses of Parliament.
- 7. The gunpowder would have done little damage to Parliament:
- The 36 barrels of gunpowder that Fawkes planted in a cellar below the Houses of Parliament would have been sufficient to raze it to the ground, while causing severe damage to neighbouring buildings. However, some experts now claim that the gunpowder had “decayed”, and would not have properly exploded even if ignited.
Chef Mark Hix presents a series of intimate suppers to be held throughout the year at his Kitchen Library, Shoreditch. With only 12 seats around the kitchen bar, places are limited, resulting in an atmosphere reflective more of a dinner party than a formal sit down restaurant. The series welcomes critically acclaimed Spanish Chef Jose Pizzaro. Mark and Jose will serve four courses, using seasonal ingredient-led menus, paired with wine and cocktails to compliment.
London is filled to the brim with West End productions, but if you’re like us, you can never say no to a sparkly new one hitting town…especially when it’s in The Crazy Coqs’ unique intimate venue. The Crazy Coqs over the years has become home to the West End’s most up-and-coming performers alongside established stars all taking to the stage beneath Piccadilly Circus.
Childhood friends and creative collaborators, Katie Lam and Alex Parker (the people behind amateur dramatics: A Musical Comedy, The Railway Children: A Musical and All Aboard), were given the task of creating a modern story for The Crazy Coqs. The result? Three classic romances (Brief Encounter, falling in Love and The Way We Were) all mixed together to create a brand new heart fluttering story, After You.
After You is all about falling in love and learning that sometimes we need to keep things to ourselves, despite it being one of the hardest things to do. It follows two characters that met by chance at a cabaret performance and – as you’d hope for on stage – their connection was sudden and deep, which resulted in them just having to meet again. However, like any love story it wasn’t all roses and Champagne; there’s a secret that threatens to rock the worlds that they have both worked so hard to maintain…we wonder what the secret is?
Order a drink from their ever-so-sophisticated cocktail menu, sit back and enjoy the show…
After You will run from 13th to 22nd April at The Crazy Coqs
Summer is on its way, shout it from the rooftops! Well, four rooftops in particular: the Bussey Building (Peckham), Roof East (Statford) The Queen of Hoxton (Shoreditch) and Kensington Roof Gardens, who have just been announced as participating venues for the summer 2017 series of Rooftop Film Club.
As we trade our underground cinemas for the sky-high, al fresco variety, some things never change – predominantly boxes of popcorn and an action-packed programme of cult classics and recent releases. It’s lights, camera, action (literally) on Thursday 4th May as The Rooftop Film Club presses play on films featuring iconic rooftop scenes – hello Mary Poppins (Stratford) and Vertigo (Peckham), with street food and drink available to pick at if popcorn isn’t hitting the spot. Shawshank Redemption and The Departed will be shown over the following days, and the cinemas at Shoreditch and Kensington will launch shortly after, on Sunday 7th May. Love birds can trade their deckchairs for love seats big enough for two, as well as a glass of prosecco and bottomless popcorn. If bottomless popcorn doesn’t scream true love then we don’t know what does.
Summer is definitely on its way.
The Rooftop Film Club launches on Thursday 4th May. Tickets go on sale today.