Christmas tree in Hyde Park 7 December 1962, City of Sydney Archives (NSCA CRS 48/3060)

Christmas tree in Hyde Park 7 December 1962, City of Sydney Archives (NSCA CRS 48/3060)

It’s getting very festive around the city as Christmas approaches so today we thought we’d look at one of the city’s biggest Christmas traditions!

Listen to Nicole and Tess on 2SER here 

Preparations for Christmas, The Empire, 24 December 1859, p4 via Trove

Preparations for Christmas, The Empire, 24 December 1859, p4 via Trove

The trappings of the northern hemisphere’s white Christmases were replaced early by Australian colonists with outdoor recreational activities like family picnics and going to the beach. Markets, fireworks and illuminations were other ways the city was enlivened during Christmas along with decorations of Christmas bush and ferns and tree boughs around the city. The first Christmas card was sent in 1843, in England, and it didn’t take long to catch on. By the 1870s, Australian publishers began to publish cards with Australian designs featuring native flora and fauna alongside traditional European Christmas imagery. (There’s a great story on the Sydney Living Museums website about these here.)

Christmas trees in the city were initially installed for charitable purposes. Historian Laila Ellmoos has written about the history of the Martin Place Christmas tree in the Dictionary. The precursor to the Martin Place tree was the one installed in Hyde Park near the War Memorial, that was associated with Carols by Candlelight that began there in 1946.

After Martin Place was converted into a pedestrian plaza and closed off to motor traffic in 1971, the City’s tree was installed there instead of Hyde Park. The tree was usually sponsored by a commercial organisation, for example Coca Cola were the sponsors in 1972. The Christmas tree lights are switched on by the Lord Mayor each year, a tradition that began in 1961 when the tree in Hyde Park was lit by Lord Mayor Harry Jensen.

City Christmas Tree, Australian Women's Weekly, 27 December 1972, p3 via Trove

Apparently there was a lot of venetian blind tweaking to get this effect in the Sydney County Council building on George Street in 1972! City Christmas Tree, Australian Women’s Weekly, 27 December 1972, p3 via Trove

There’s lots to do in Sydney around this time. In addition to seeing the decorations and this year’s tree in Martin Place (check here for details), head over to Hyde Park Barracks for Sydney Living Museums’ Christmas Fare tomorrow from 4-9pm. It will feature over 40 stalls and the Museums’ resident gastronomer, Jacqui Newling, will also be providing samples of Christmas classics based on historical recipes! More information at  the Sydney Living Museum’s website here.

Read Laila Ellmoos’s entry on the Martin Place Christmas tree on the Dictionary here.

Nicole Cama is a professional historian, writer and curator. She appears on 2SER on behalf of the Dictionary of Sydney in a voluntary capacity. Thanks Nicole!

Listen to the podcast with Nicole & Tess here, and tune in to 2SER Breakfast with Tess Connery on 107.3 every Wednesday morning at 8:15 to hear more from the Dictionary of Sydney.

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