Although the popularity of the Christmas tree is attributed to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, it was Queen Charlotte, Victoria’s grandmother, who introduced it to Britain. George III’s wife was German, and she loved the custom of bringing an evergreen inside at the Yuletide and decorating it with candles and sweets.

Victoria and Albert were the first media royals and used greeting cards and photographic images to portray an ideal Victorian family. One in particular depicted them with their first six children gathered around a Christmas tree.

After these images appeared in “The Illustrated London News” and “Cassell’s Magazine,” the custom caught on with the populace. The upper classes, along with a growing middle class, wanted to do as the royals did, just as today Kate Middleton’s latest handbag sells out in minutes.

Legend has it that Martin Luther invented the Christmas tree. On a winter’s night in 1536, walking through a forest near his home in Wittenburg, he looked up and saw thousands of stars shining through fir branches. This inspired him to erect a candlelit fir tree in his home to remind his children of the starry heavens, Christ’s original home.

Every place the fir tree grows has its own customs and beliefs concerning this beautifully symmetrical conifer. A common one from England is: “If a fir-tree be touched, withered, or burned by lightning, it signifies that the master or mistress thereof shall shortly die.”

Dedicated to the Greek god Pan, it signifies boldness and fidelity, as well as progress, remembrance, resilience and honesty.

Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest boiled its balsamic-scented leaves into a drink. The leaves were also used to freshen air. In Norway, funeral plants are juniper and fir. In Torquay, England, fir cones are called oysters.

The Scots carried a piece of fir for good luck. This superstition traveled to California, where prospectors dipped a fir cone in the first gold they discovered and kept it as a luck charm.

In Austria, the maypole is traditionally made from fir, and on midsummer night, the branches of the fir are decorated with flowers and colored eggs. Young people dance around it, singing rhymes.

Growing up to 330 feet, the Douglas Fir is an important cultivated timber tree. Numerous Christmas tree farms featuring fir, pine and spruce are found around the country, some of which are in Kentucky.

As you gather around your tree this year, drink a toast to Good Queen Charlotte.

– A reference librarian, Lisa Karen Miller has been gardening and researching plant lore for many years. Have plant lore to share? Email

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