Tag Archives: Christmas tree

“Calling the tree…”

Archival Moment

Christmas 1889

Christmas Tree Tags

Christmas Tree Tags

A Christmas tradition that has long passed in Newfoundland and Labrador is the fundraiser known as ‘Calling the Tree.’ In communities throughout the country (now province) on St. Stephen’s Day church groups would host a fundraising event where the focus was the Christmas tree. In Scilly Cove (now Winterton, Trinity Bay) “the Tree” was one of the major fundraisers of the year.

A resident of Scilly Cove writing in January 1890 describing ‘The Tree’ wrote:

“St. Stephen’s Day in Scilly Cove has, for several years past, been a high day, that is, a joyous and lively time. The young people, especially, have then made up their minds to obtain all the fun they possibly can. To aid the young folks to better enjoy a pleasant day and evening, we have been permitted, by the aid of kind friends both here and in St. John’s, to get off a Christmas tree. On Thursday last we were up to the mark as usual, and by 2 o’clock the tree was in full swing, fairly bending beneath its load of prizes.”

The “tree ” was held in the school-room, and refreshments were served in the Fishermen’s Lodge, both apartments being most carefully decorated ; evergreens, interspersed with rose-buds and colored tissue paper, gave the rooms a lively appearance. Some exquisite Chinese lanterns presented a magnificent illumination.

While some visitors were making their purchases from the goods and toy tables down stairs, others were regaling themselves upon the luxuries and delicacies plentifully furnished by the refreshment tables in the lodge room. Choice soups, tea, coffee, cocoa and beverages of various kinds were bountifully supplied. Mr. Fred. Kelland and Miss Sarah Parrott disposed of an immense quantity of small articles by means of grab bags and wheels of fortune. Mr. and Mrs. Haddon, although not of the committee, assisted materially by donations and personal help.

The Christmas tree was the focus of the evening with each branch holding a numbered ticket. Everyone attending the event (for the small price of 20 cents) would purchase a ticket at the door and was then entitled to a prize from the Tree, bearing a corresponding number. A resident of Scilly Cove wrote:

“The Tree” contained a large number of useful articles of children’s clothing, being the outcome of the labors of The Ladies Sewing Circle during the past summer.”

Any monies realized from the Christmas tree were used to make purchases for the Church. In 1889 “we were able to purchase a first-class organ for our church, and also to pay a debt of “dues” to one late rector of twenty dollars.” In 1892 “a sufficient sum ($30 dollars) was realized to pay off our indebtedness for the carpet upon the floor of our new church.”

‘The Tree’ was a reason to gather during the Christmas Season, another tradition no longer celebrated.

In many communities the evening was referred to as ‘calling the tree’  the act of calling out the number that was purchased at the door that corresponded to the number on the Christmas tree.

Note: In 1912, Scilly Cove was named Winterton for Sir James Spearman Winter, former Prime Minister of Newfoundland.

Did Labrador have the first Christmas tree In North America?

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives: A 59-19; Four Inuit children during Christmas event, Nain.

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives: A 59-19; Four Inuit children during Christmas event, Nain, Labrador.


The tradition of the Christmas tree has been firmly established in Newfoundland and Labrador since at least the 1846 and may have been part of the culture long before that.

The first documented Christmas tree in Canada was the tree set up by Baron Friederick von Riedesel in 1781 in Sorel, Quebec. The Baron,  following the custom of his native Germany, cut down a balsam fir from the dense forest surrounding his home and decorated it with white candles.

The next recorded use of a Christmas tree  in what  is now Canada is debatable. Was it Labrador or Halifax?

In Halifax in 1846, William Pryor, a local merchant, cut down an evergreen and decorated it with glass ornaments imported from Germany to please his German wife.

Several  American  cities claim to have had the first Christmas tree in America. Bethlehem, PA appears to have had the first decorated Christmas tree in 1747 at the German Moravian Church settlement, however it was made by putting evergreen branches on a wooden pyramid! Windsor Locks, CT claims they have earliest date in 1777.

In Labrador a writer with the Scottish publication, Hogg’s Weekly Instructor in June 1847 reporting on the work of the Moravian Missionaries in Labrador wrote:

“One year some German friends, remembering the pleasure created in their own country with the illumination of Christmas trees sent several hundred little candles to Labrador. The missionaries distributed them to the children after fixing them in some of the small white radishes which they raise in their melancholy gardens.”

It is likely that the candles were placed in the radishes by the missionaries to mimic a Christmas tree.

Perhaps Labrador was the first?

The Moravian Missionaries have been firmly established in Labrador since 1771. It is likely that these missionaries carried with them their customs and traditions which would have included the decoration of the Christmas tree.

The article in Hogg’s Weekly Journal was printed in 1847 but clearly the writer is recalling an event that took place in the past.

Is it possible that the Christmas tree tradition in Labrador started with that first Christmas in 1771 – a full ten years before the claim by the town of Sorel, Quebec  (1781) and  six year before  Windsor Locks, CT (1777). ?

On the island portion of the province it is likely that the custom of using Christmas Trees was influenced by Queen Victoria. The young queen had a tree set up 1848, in accordance with the German Christmas custom of her German born husband, Prince Albert.  It was a tradition that  was quickly adopted by her subjects!

Recommended Exhibit: At The Rooms take some time to see a number of Christmas themed trees that have been prepared by staff and visiting students. Some of the trees that are featured include:

Recommended Song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2lhQ_hBT7lA  Tannenbaum is a Christmas carol of German origin. A Tannenbaum is a fir tree or Christmas tree.