Don’t you love the smell of a real Christmas tree? Although I always had a fake tree growing up, I started putting up real trees a few years ago. Now I can’t imagine ever going back to plastic! I put my Christmas tree up the weekend after Thanksgiving to enjoy it for all of December. Once it’s up, that’s when I start getting into the Christmas spirit (no matter how early the stores start decorating!). But even though every public park, store, and hotel lobby has its own Christmas tree, how did this holiday tradition evolve?
Like many modern religious traditions, Christmas trees have their roots in pagan folklore. Ancient peoples hung evergreen boughs over their doors and windows during the winter months. Some believed that evergreens would keep away witches, ghosts, evil spirits, and illness. Since December 21st is the shortest day of the year (Winter Solstice), evergreens symbolized summer (i.e., survival) would come again. The ancient Egyptians, Romans, Celts, and even the Vikings used greenery as decoration during Winter Solstice.
Christmas Tree Tradition
The Christmas tree tradition as we know it began in Sixteenth-century Germany. It is a widely held belief that Martin Luther, the 16th-century Protestant reformer, first added lighted candles to a tree. He attempted to mimic twinkling stars. Eventually, German immigrants brought their Christmas traditions, including the Christmas tree, to the United States.
The first record of one being on display was in the 1830s by the German settlers in Pennsylvania; as late as the 1840s, Christmas trees were considered pagan symbols. Most Americans did not accept trees as part of the holiday festivities. The Puritans of New England, for instance, rejected the “heathen traditions of Christmas carols, decorated trees, and any joyful expression that desecrated that sacred event.
Since Puritans were the first Americans, their approach to acceptable Christmas activities dominated the American mindset. Until 1846, when British royals, Queen Victoria and her German Prince, Albert, were seen next to a tree. The Illustrated London News had sketched the royal parents standing with their children around a Christmas tree. Suddenly Christmas tree was in fashion!
Modern Day Christmas Trees
Christmas tree decorations were often edible goodies like cookies, apples, nuts, and popcorn garlands in the early 20th century. Christmas lights replaced candles once electricity became commonplace. And publicly decorated trees started appearing across the country!