City’s most stunning Christmas tree stands tall in Ely Cathedral - here’s how it was chosen, decorated and the history behind the festive tradition

O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree! Thy leaves are so unchanging; Come to our special service when w

O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree! Thy leaves are so unchanging; Come to our special service when we bless the beautiful Christmas Tree of Ely Cathedral - Credit: Archant

The big Christmas tree light switch on took place in Ely Cathedral at the weekend, as the city gets ready for the festive period.

Back by popular demand, there was a countdown to the switching on of the lights on Sunday evening. The popular event, designed for young children and families, also featured song and prayer.

It concluded with the blessing of the tree complete with fairy dust. Once the lights were switched on there was chance to pose for a family photo in front of the sparkling tree.

Lesley Ann Thompson talks us through why it was chosen, decorated and the history behind the festive tradition:

The history of the Christmas tree

The use of the Christmas tree is relatively modern in this country. The tradition arrived from Germany in the 18th Century, where ever-green trees were brought into the home and decorated with apples, nuts and other foods.

In earlier times, evergreens were thought by Christians to symbolise various things including eternal life, the Holy Trinity, and the Tree of Paradise in the Garden of Eden.

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The Christmas tree is often decorated with stars and angels, to represent the Star of Bethlehem and the Angel Gabriel who brought tidings of the Saviour’s birth.

Every year the Christmas Tree at Ely Cathedral attracts thousands of visitors as well as creating the most splendid backdrop for all the services, concerts and events which take place throughout Advent and Christmastide. In fact it has such a prominent profile across the region we thought we would try and discover a bit more about it.

Choosing the tree

On a misty autumn day in September we visited the beautiful Elveden Estate in Norfolk to choose our celebrated Christmas tree for 2017.

Clare and Peter Shropshire, who have sponsored the tree in recent years, joined us at Elveden along with our clerk of works, Vicki Roulinson and Áine Rodriguez from the cathedral’s workforce with the task of choosing the perfect tree for the job.

The decision was not an easy one but after a few hours searching and with the help of two tree specialists from the estate we finally stumbled across The Tree - a magnificent 30ft, 30 year old Norwegian Fir.

With over 40 years experience in growing firs, Elveden have nurtured the tree from an early age, carefully managing its strength and shape, in order to provide that perfect Christmas tree shape.

Their job is to fell the tree and deliver it to Ely Cathedral on a flat bed lorry ready for the task of decorating.

Decorating the tree

This is a mammoth project which takes two people a week to complete. This is Áine’s 13th year decorating the tree. She and Clare work very closely together, with Clare at the bottom co-ordinating the design while Áine works from a cherry picker placing the decorations in situ.

Clare and her husband Peter also supply the thousands of decorations required, sourcing many from Christmas fairs around Europe whilst also creating a bespoke decorations especially for the tree.

Altogether they use over 2,000 decorations and 500 lights. The finished article is nothing short of eye catching.

Continuing the tradition

Nobody at the cathedral can remember exactly how long ago such a magnificent tree was erected at Ely Cathedral however we are extremely grateful to Clare and Peter who took on the sponsorship of the tree back in 2011, carrying on the tradition started by John and Diana Barcham-Stevens in the 1980s.

This is the last year that Clare and Peter will be sponsoring Ely Cathedral’s tree and we very much hope someone else will be willing to become involved so Ely Cathedral and the surrounding community can continue to enjoy this wonderful Christmas tradition.

The Christmas tree will stay in the cathedral until after the feast of Epiphany on January 6. Then it will be recycled within the local community.