Feb 09

History of the Christmas Tree

Christmas TreesIf you stop and think about the origin of the Christmas, you will probably pause for a minute and wonder, “Exactly how did a Christmas tree become part of it?”

After all, Christmas didn’t involve a tree.  The very first Christmas didn’t have a tree and I’m pretty sure that many Christmases after that didn’t have a tree and it didn’t have decorations hanging on an evergreen.  What the first Christmas had was a star shining brightly in the velvet sky announcing the arrival of our savior.

There was the stable, the shepherds, and all the animals but I don’t remember any mention of a tree in any of the Christmas stories that I have heard over the years.  And that was probably because there wasn’t a tree.

In actual fact, it wasn’t until much later that the Christmas tree was adopted into the celebration of the birth of Christ and then it was attributed to Germany for started the Christmas tree tradition.

When we trace the history of the Christmas tree, we actually trace it back to many pagan cultures.  In their belief, the winter solstice was a time of year when many people would bring evergreens into their homes to mark the shortest day of the year.  It is felt that people believed evergreens had magical protections against winter which ensured that they would survive the hard season.

The tradition of bringing evergreens or evergreen branches into the home can be traced as far back as Ancient Egypt and many different cultures throughout the centuries have had similar traditions involving evergreens.  In Germany, the Germanic tribes decorated the evergreen branches with candles and fruit in tribute to their god Woden.

In the sixteenth century, Christianity adopted this practice in Germany and the Christmas tree became a yearly tradition for many German families.  The first Christmas trees were actually called the “Paradeisbaum,” which translates to “paradise trees,” and they were not used to celebrate Christmas but were used to celebrate the feast of Adam and Eve, which took place on December 24th of each year.

The history behind the start of it is somewhat debated and many attribute it to Martin Luther (1483-1546), who was the protestant reformer.  It is said that one night as he was returning home, he witnessed the stars shining through the evergreens.  So inspired by the beauty of the scene, he cut down a small tree and erected it in his home. There he placed candles on the branches to simulate the flickering starts through the branches outside.

This origin is actually debated and no one will really know when the first Christmas tree was used.  Another hot debate is on the appropriateness of Christmas trees since they are linked with pagan traditions.

After the Christmas tree became an accepted tradition in Germany, it was carried to America by German immigrants, who began using evergreens in their yearly celebrations in the 1700’s.

It is interesting to note that Americans were not as accepting of the Christmas tree as they are now.  At first they viewed the use of Christmas trees as a pagan tradition and outside of the German immigrants, the Christmas tree never caught on and was in fact viewed as a penal offense after a law was passed in 1659 that made any observance of Christmas outside of attending church illegal.

It wasn’t until the early 1850’s that the Christmas tree became an accepted tradition for Americans.  From there, the Christmas tree caught on and the normal decorations of fruit and nuts slowly moved away from food to handmade decorations to finally store bought decorations.

Today, Christmas trees are a popular part of Christmas and according to the National Christmas Tree Association, 31.3 million real trees and 17.4 million artificial trees were purchased in 2007.  From those facts alone, it is apparent that the Christmas tree is here to stay.


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