O Christmas Tree – A History of Tree Tradition

| Community | December 21, 2018

by Natalia Radcliffe

What comes to mind when thinking of Christmas? Perhaps it is the smell of fresh cookies baking in the oven. Or maybe it’s sitting on the couch with your hot chocolate while watching a Christmas movie.

For most people, Christmas also brings memories of a Christmas tree, decorated with beautiful ornaments, lights and presents underneath for family and friends.

The Christmas tree has been a long-standing tradition in the United States for many years. However, the roots of this tradition are not found in the Christian religion, as people might think, but in pagan traditions.

According to an article published by britannica.com, thousands of years before the United States was even settled, the ancient Egyptians, Chinese, and Hebrews used evergreen trees, wreaths, and garlands to signify eternal life. European pagans commonly used trees in their worship, as well.


When Europe converted to Christianity, Christmas trees and evergreens evolved to represent more Christian-themed views. For example, Scandinavians used Christmas trees to shelter birds that came their way, and decorated their dwellings with evergreens during the New Year to ward off the devil.

Christmas trees were also a custom in Germany. People would place a Yule tree at the entrance or inside their houses throughout the winter months.

It was here in Germany where the modern Christmas tree was born.

The inspiration came from a medieval play about Adam and Eve, particularly from the main prop, the “paradise tree,” which was a fir tree with apples representing the Garden of Eden.

The Germans would set up this kind of tree in their homes on Christmas Eve.

Back then, December 24 signified a day of feast, celebrating Adam and Eve. People decorated their trees with wafers and candles. The wafers represented redemption, and the candles were a metaphor signifying Christ as the “light of the world.”

Another decoration that would be in the same room was a “Christmas pyramid.” Similar to the Italian tradition, Ceppo, this decoration was shaped like a triangle and made of wood. There were shelves on different levels where little figurines could be placed. Evergreens, candles, and a star for the top often adorned it.
By the 1500s, the Christmas pyramid and the paradise tree had combined into what is recognized as the modern Christmas tree. However, it was not until the 1800s when the Christmas tree became a treasured tradition in America.

Christmas trees had been around in North America since the 1600s, but weren’t popular. Many people thought the idea of a Christmas tree was strange, and the New England Puritans were stringent when it came to celebrating Christmas.

According to an article published on history.com, in 1659, the General Court of Massachusetts even made a law which made any observance of December 25 that did not include going to church a “penal offense.” People were fined for hanging decorations, singing carols, or doing anything else that did not just consist of going to church.

This perspective changed in the 1800s with the combination of two variables. One of these consisted of German and Irish immigrants coming to America and dulling the Puritan influence. The second involved Queen Victoria of England.

A popular queen, she and her husband, Prince Albert, a native German, were featured with their children in the Illustrated London News gathered around a decorated Christmas Tree. The tree featured toys, gifts, candles, candies, popcorn strings, and cakes hung from the branches.

After this, Christmas trees swelled in popularity. Ornaments were being sold as early as the 1870s in the United States and Britain.

By 1890, electric tree lights were also available for purchase, thanks to Thomas Edison’s assistance. Artificial trees became popular 40 years later with people living in areas where fresh trees were hard to come by. The first were composed of brush bristles, and by the late 1900s, aluminum and PVC plastic trees were being sold.

According to the National Christmas Tree Association’s website, Sears, Roebuck & Company were selling artificial Christmas trees by the late 1800s. For 33 limbs, it was 50 cents, and for 55 limbs, it was a dollar.

For those of us who prefer live Christmas trees, Americans will buy between 25-30 million of them to decorate their houses this year, according to the National Christmas Tree Association.

Merry Christmas and happy decorating!

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