The tree is a symbol of life, especially the evergreen firs that have foliage even in the coldest days of winter. The cult of the tree is in most religions, all over the world, throughout the centuries. The Gauls and the druids revered the oak, the Scandinavians had the Ash, and in the Alsace region it was the Fir. There have always been celebrations around the time of the winter solstice and when Christmas was first celebrated in Rome on 25th December 354 AD, it was an alteration of the existing festival of Saturnalia.
As the religion spread, Christmas was celebrated according to local customs and by the middle ages various traditions were common across Europe, including processions, tableax vivants and Nativity displays. Trees were often incorporated into these to symbolise the Tree of Paradise from which Eve picked her apple, so trees were often hung with apples. In Alsace in the 16th century there was a custom of having a tree in the home which was decorated with sweets and apples. The custom spread across Germany and was introduced into the UK by Queen Victoria's German husband Albert in the 19th century where it became fashionable and spread to all parts of the country. Prior to this the custom in Britain had been to decorate a log.
By the start of the 20th century the Christmas tree had become central to the festivities all over the world. Christmas Trees were now being decorated by candles and Tchaïkowsky's Christmas ballet the Nutcracker featured a beautiful decorated tree with sparkling lights at the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburgh in 1892.
However we choose to decorate it, Christmas is now inextricably linked to the smell and sight of the Christmas tree, sparkling with presents beneath it.