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.