Decorating a Christmas tree usually involves spools of electric Christmas lights, store-bought and homemade ornaments, with a star or angel resting at the top. Yet these traditions are a result of modern conveniences. When Christmas Trees first rose to prominence in the United States, they were often decorated with fruits and other items. From this, a tradition of stringing popcorn and cranberries into a garland that wrapped around the tree was born.
So the question is – why was fruit originally put on the tree? Here’s a little Christmas tree history.
Before Christianity became the dominant religion in Europe, many pagan rituals involved having a live evergreen tree or branch in the home. The reasons varied and included wishes of prosperity and luck with the harvest. In medieval Germany (around 1500), full pine trees were brought into the home to celebrate the Name Day of Adam and Eve (December 24th). The families would decorate the tree with apples in honor of the two. These trees were called Paradise Trees in reference to where Adam and Eve met.
Over time, Paradise Trees evolved into Christmas trees, a tradition mostly only celebrated in Germany. In the 18th and 19th centuries when many Germans immigrated to the United States, they would sometimes bring the tradition with them. However it was viewed as a foreign custom and didn’t quite catch on in America. That is until Christmas 1848.
The Queen of England, Queen Victoria was married to a German, Prince Albert. In the winter of 1848, Queen Victoria asked to have a Christmas tree put up for the holiday as it was something Prince Albert had as a child for Christmas. Soon the story of the Royal Christmas Tree was published in the newspapers with an illustration depicting the tree in the palace, and the tradition spread throughout Europe and over to North America.
So again, how did popcorn end up on our Christmas trees? While its origins are not completely known, the art of stringing popcorn on a tree most likely came from the fact that when Christmas trees first became widespread, people didn’t have much to decorate them with. They borrowed from the German tradition of putting fruit on the trees and because cranberries are harvested through November, it’s most likely that they were strung with popcorn as they were still in season.
Today, many people purchase artificial popcorn wreaths while some families still thread twine or dental floss through popcorn and cranberries to make a holiday garland. It is common practice to make garlands with real cranberries and popcorn to string on outside evergreens to give birds, squirrels, and other wild life a treat for the holidays!