It feels like a tradition that stretches back into the depths of the past. The warmly dressed father stands, axe in hand, looking at the fir tree he has just cut. It’s nicely shaped, branches touched with snow, not too big. The dog looks on, curious and alert. His son is stepping forward, holding the ropes of a sled in one hand, a staff in the other. They’ve walked here; now they will use the sled to pull the tree home.
There is no sign of a path – we see tussocky snow-covered ground all around them. Stands of trees are softly and mistily lit. Bare-branched trees mingle with evergreens. The sky suggests a setting sun. Maybe they are here on Christmas Eve, cutting a Christmas tree to take home for the family to decorate.
There is a feeling of happy anticipation. Franz Krüger painted it when Germany was enjoying a period of peace and prosperity. And so was he, a famous and popular portrait painter, with connections to the Prussian royal family and, through them, to the Russian Imperial house. He worked steadily, painting works commissioned by members of the courts, portraits and scenes like these. Perhaps that’s where that sense of peace, prosperity and pleasant anticipation comes from.
By the time he created this painting the tradition of bringing home a Christmas tree was only a few centuries old. It began in the 16th century in Germany, when the fir tree became a symbol of the Christian religion; he painted this picture in the 19th century.
Since then the Christmas tree has spread, become and remained a tradition for many, all over the world. Even where no-one goes out in the snow to cut their own, the tree has become a special symbol.
As it did then, it stands for hope, celebration and good times shared with family and friends.