The first Christmas tree in Canada was set up in Sorel, Quebec in 1781 by Baron Friederick von Riedesel. The baron, who was born in Germany, selected a handsome balsam fir from the forests that surrounded his home and decorated it with white candles. The next recorded use of a Christmas tree appears in Halifax in 1846, when William Pryor, a local merchant, cut down an evergreen and decorated it with glass ornaments imported from Germany to please his German wife. After that, the custom spread quickly as German and British pioneers settled throughout the growing nation.
Christmas in Canada, in the 19th Century, was often a rough and ready affair: In Newfoundland, a new twist had been added to the custom of bringing in a huge Yule Log that would burn for the twelve days of Christmas; the Newfoundlanders threw a piece of the flaming log over the roof of their homes in the belief that this would protect the inhabitants from fire during the coming year. In Quebec, children hung stockings beside the tree on Christmas eve in the belief that they would be filled by the Christ child; until well into this century, French-Canadian children waited until New Year's Day to receive the rest of their presents. In Ontario, Christmas was observed in the manner of Victorian England. Carol singers roamed from house to house, brilliantly coloured Christmas cards were exchanged, and banquet tables were laden with roast beef, plum pudding, and boar's head. In 1882, the Toronto newspaper, The Globe, reported that nearly a million Christmas gifts had been sold that year in the city. In the newly settled Prairie provinces, Christmas dinner was like nothing ever seen in Europe. Fish browned in buffalo marrow, boiled buffalo hump, beaver tail and buffalo veal were just as likely to be the centrepieces of a Christmas feast as roast turkey. After supper, young people would put on their "steels" to go skating on a pond or nearby frozen river. In British Columbia, in the week before Christmas, loggers came down from the mountains, where they had worked for months cutting down the gigantic Douglas firs, to settlements along the coast where they would gather to celebrate the holiday.
The seasonal tradition that is celebrated in Canada today has borrowed many customs from many lands, but families who have come from all over the world have adopted the Christmas tree as the symbol and centrepiece of the festive season. As much as decorating the tree, choosing the tree has become a tradition of its own. Bundled in boots and winter coats, families walk through the snow to Christmas tree lots in the city or drive to farms in the country in search of the right tree. On some choose-and-cut farms, the growers may welcome the family with hot chocolate, a bonfire or a wagon ride through fields covered with beautifully shaped trees. Making the right choice is never easy especially when it comes to Christmas trees. Discussions on the matter are always very lively. Is the tree big enough or will it fit in the house? Is it full on every side? Is a pine tree with its long soft needles more beautiful than a spruce or fir with their stiff, short needles? Decisions are hard but sooner or later everyone agrees on the perfect tree.
Decorating the tree is an especially important job that is shared by everyone in the family. These days glittering glass ornaments, electric lights, and shining tinsel have replaced the gilded fruits, pine cones, sweets, apples and candles that were once used as decorations. But the ceremony itself has changed little over the centuries. Glittering with colour and light and topped with a star or radiant angel, the Christmas tree, green and lush in the winter, is a symbol that life is eternal, while the presents below it are reminders of the love, joy and close ties that are shared by families and friends.
The German folk song, "O Tannenbaum" says: Not only in summer's glow, But 'mid the winter's frost and snow O faithful pine, O faithful pine, You're true and green forever. As it has for centuries, the evergreen still symbolizes belief in renewed life and the hope and faith that dwell in all the world's peoples regardless of race or creed. It is a symbol of joy and delight to all.