To begin with, evergreens were used as a symbol of rebirth in ancient Egypt and Rome. The German tradition of candle-lit Christmas trees was brought to the United States by a German immigrant in the 1800s. Find out how Christmas trees have evolved over time, from the earliest winter solstice celebrations to Queen Victoria’s decorating habits and the annual lighting of the Rockefeller Center tree in New York City.
What Is the Origin of Christmas Trees?
Many people had a special significance for plants and trees that were green all year long long before Christianity was invented… Ancient people hung evergreen boughs over their doors and windows in the same way that we do today during the holiday season. According to folklore, evergreen trees were thought to ward off evil spirits and sickness.
The answer is yes. All 50 states, including Hawaii and Alaska, produce Christmas trees.
The winter solstice occurs on December 21 or 22 in the northern hemisphere and is known as the shortest day and longest night of the year. A large number of ancient people believed that the sun was a deity, and that winter was a sign that the sun god was sick or weak. They observed the solstice to commemorate the sun god’s recovery, which they believed would begin on this day. When the sun god was strong and summer returned, the evergreen boughs reminded them of all the green plants that would grow.
As a deity, the ancient Egyptians revered the god Ra, who was depicted with the sun’s disk in his crown and a hawk’s head. The Egyptians adorned their homes with green palm rushes at the solstice, when Ra was beginning to recover from his illness, as a symbol of the triumph of life over death.
As a tribute to Saturn, the Roman god of agriculture, early Romans celebrated the solstice with a festival known as Saturnalia. Farms and orchards would soon be green and ripe thanks to the solstice. They decorated their homes and temples with evergreen branches to commemorate the occasion.
Similarly, the mysterious Druids, priests of the ancient Celts, used evergreen boughs to decorate their temples in northern Europe. The sun god, Balder, was revered by the Vikings of Scandinavia, who believed that evergreens were his favorite plant.
MORE HISTORY: The Origins of the Holiday
Christmas Trees in Germany
In the 16th century, devout Christians began bringing decorated Christmas trees into their homes as a way of celebrating the holiday season. If wood was scarce, some people built Christmas pyramids made of wood and decorated with evergreens and candles. Martin Luther, the Protestant reformer of the 16th century, is widely believed to have been the first to decorate a Christmas tree with candles. He was awed by the stars twinkling in the evergreens as he walked back to his house one winter evening, composing a sermon. A tree was erected in the main room and its branches were wired with lighted candles to recreate the scene for his family.
When did Christmas trees arrive in the US?
Christmas trees were an anomaly to the majority of nineteenth-century Americans. In the 1830s, the German settlers of Pennsylvania were the first to display a Christmas tree, but it had been a tradition in many German homes since the 17th century. As far back as 1747, the German settlements in Pennsylvania had trees in common. However, as late as the 1840s, most Americans viewed Christmas trees as pagan symbols and refused to accept them.
It’s understandable that the Christmas tree arrived in the United States so late, given the popularity of other holiday customs. The New England Puritans held Christmas in high regard. The “pagan mockery” of the observance was an issue that William Bradford, the second governor of the Pilgrims, wrote about in his memoirs. By preaching against them, “the heathen traditions” of Christmas carols, decorated trees, and other festive displays were denounced by Oliver Cromwell as desecrating “that sacred event.” On December 25, 1659, the General Court of Massachusetts enacted a law that made any celebration (other than a church service) of the holiday punishable by a fine. It wasn’t until the early 19th century that the Puritan legacy was undermined by the influx of German and Irish immigrants.
Illustrated London News sketched Queen Victoria and her German Prince Albert in front of a Christmas tree on December 25, 1846. Queen Victoria had a great deal of public support, and the things she did at court were quickly adopted by the fashion-conscious society of the East Coast of the United States. This year’s Christmas tree was finally here.
Christmas ornaments from Germany began arriving in the United States in the 1890s, and the popularity of the Christmas tree was on the rise. American Christmas trees were found to be taller than those used in Europe, reaching from floor to ceiling.
American Christmas trees were decorated with homemade ornaments in the early 20th century, while the German-American sect continued to use apples, nuts, and marzipan cookies to decorate their trees for many years. When the berries and nuts were added, the popcorn was ready to join in. The advent of electricity led to the invention of Christmas lights, which allowed Christmas trees to remain illuminated for days at a time. At that time, town squares were filled with Christmas trees and having a tree inside became an American tradition.
On the west side of Fifth Avenue, between 47th and 51st Streets in New York City, stands the Rockefeller Center Tree.
This year’s Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree has its roots in the Great Depression. In 1948, Rockefeller Center’s tallest Christmas tree was unveiled. Located in Killingworth, Connecticut, the tree was a Norway Spruce with a height of 100 feet.
In 1931, Rockefeller Center’s first tree was planted. Construction workers had planted a small, plain tree in the middle of the construction site. Two years later, a new tree with lights was planted in its place. Over 25,000 Christmas lights now adorn the massive Rockefeller Center tree.
Canadian Christmas Trees
In the 1700s, German settlers from the United States moved to Canada. Advent calendars, gingerbread houses, cookies, and Christmas trees are just a few of the things they brought back with them from their time in Europe. Christmas trees became an annual tradition in England, America and Canada after Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s German husband, put one up at Windsor Castle in 1848.
Mexican Christmas Trees
El Nacimiento (the birth of Jesus) is the most common decoration in Mexican homes during the holiday season (Nativity scene). Christmas trees can be incorporated into the Nacimiento or placed elsewhere in the home as an alternative. The typical arbolito (little tree) is an artificial one, a bare branch cut from a copal tree (Bursera microphylla) or some type of shrub collected from the countryside.
Great Britain has a large number of Christmas trees
British homes are traditionally decorated with Norway spruce, a type of conifer native to Scandinavia. Pre-Ice Age British Isles native species were reintroduced before 1500s with the Norway Spruce.
Greenland’s Christmas trees
There are no Christmas trees native to this area, so they must be imported. Candles and brightly colored ornaments adorn the tables.
Guatemala has Christmas trees.
Because of Guatemala’s large German population, the Christmas tree has become a popular ornament in the “Nacimiento” (Nativity scene). On Christmas morning, the children wake up to find presents under the tree. Until New Year’s Day, parents and adults do not exchange gifts.
Christmas trees in Brazil.
Some Brazilian pine trees are decorated with cotton balls to resemble falling snow during the summer months of Christmas.
In Ireland, you’ll find a lot of Christmas trees.
You can buy a Christmas tree at any time in December and adorn it however you want. The angel or the star on top of the tree is preferred by some, while others prefer both. Garlands, candles, holly, and ivy decorate the house. The door is festooned with wreaths and mistletoe.
Trees decorated for the holidays in Sweden
When it comes to decorating the tree, most people wait until just a few days before Christmas Eve to bring the tree inside and decorate it. Stars, sunbursts, and snowflakes made of straw are adorning the evergreen trees. Straw centerpieces and a variety of brightly colored wooden animals are also on display.
In Norway, there are Christmas trees.
The tradition of going to the woods to choose a Christmas tree is common among Norwegians today, a tradition that may have been unheard of a generation ago. Until the latter half of the 19th century, Norway was largely untouched by the Christmas tree, which was brought over from Germany in the late 1800s. To get the tree ready for the big day, families gather on Christmas Eve to do the decorating together behind closed doors in the living room while the kids wait outside in anticipation. As part of the festivities in Norway, a tradition known as “circling the Christmas tree” is observed, in which everyone forms a circle around the tree and sings Christmas carols. After that, the gifts are handed out.
Christmas trees are a common sight in the Ukrainian capital.
Christmas is the most popular holiday in Ukraine, celebrated on December 25th by Catholics and January 7th by Orthodox Christians. For Christmas and New Year’s Eve, people decorate fir trees and throw parties in their homes.
Trees for the holidays in Spain
Catalonia, a lucky-strike game, is a popular Christmas tradition. There are hazelnuts, almonds, and toffee in the trunk of a tree and children try to get them out by slamming the trunk.
In Italy, there are Christmas trees.
For many Italian families, the centerpiece of the Christmas season is the presepio (manger or crib), a miniature representation of the Holy Family in the stable. Guests kneel and musicians sing before it. It is common for the presepio figures to be hand-carved and extremely detailed in features and attire. In many films, the set is arranged in the form of a triangle. The ceppo is a pyramid-like structure that serves as the base of the pyramid. This is a wooden frame that has been arranged to form a large pyramid. This frame holds several tiers of narrow shelves. Colorful paper, gilt pine cones, and miniature colored pennants adorn the entire piece. The tapered sides of the pillars are decorated with small candles. Each corner of the triangle is decorated with a small doll or star. Fruit, candy, and other small gifts fill the shelves above the manger scene. When the Tree of Light tradition spread to other countries, the ceppo was adopted as a replacement for the traditional Christmas tree. In some families, there is even a ceppo for each of the children.
In Germany, there are Christmas trees.
Many of the world’s Christmas traditions are rooted in Germany.
Many believe Martin Luther started the practice of bringing a Christmas tree into the home. In one legend, Martin Luther was walking through the woods late at night and noticed how the stars were reflected beautifully by the trees. For his wife, he cut a fir tree down and brought it back home. Upon entering, he placed small, lighted candles on the branches of the tree and said that it was a symbol of the beautiful sky at Christmas time. In the beginning, there was a tree.
It’s also said that in the early 1600s, people in Germany combined two different cultures’ customs from all over the world. In the Garden of Eden, the Paradise tree (a fir tree adorned with apples) symbolized the Tree of Knowledge. To commemorate Christ’s birth as the “Light of the World,” the traditional Christmas Light was an ornamental pyramid-shaped frame covered in glass balls and tinsel with a candle perched atop. The Germans invented the modern Christmas tree by transforming the tree’s apples into tinsel balls and cookies and then adding a light to the top.
Christmas trees are traditionally decorated by parents in secret and then lit and unveiled on Christmas Eve with cookies, nuts, and gifts under the branches.
In South Africa, there are Christmas trees.
South Africa celebrates Christmas during the summer months. Despite the lack of Christmas trees, windows are often decorated with tinsel and cotton wool.
People in Saudi Arabia decorate their homes with Christmas trees.
People of Christian faith from around the world who live in the United States must celebrate Christmas privately in their own homes. In general, the use of Christmas lights is frowned upon. The majority of families prefer to hide their Christmas trees.
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The Philippines has many Christmas trees.
Many Filipinos are unable to afford fresh pine trees, so handmade trees in a variety of colors and sizes are commonly used. In December, parol, or star lanterns, are everywhere. Bamboo sticks are covered in rice paper or cellophane, and each tassel is attached to the end of one of the ends. Typically, there is one in each of the windows to represent the Star of Bethlehem.
Christmas trees on display in China
Artificial trees decorated with paper chains, flowers, and lanterns are commonly erected by the few Chinese who celebrate Christmas. “Trees of light” are the name given to Christmas trees.
In Japan, Christmas trees are a common sight.
The majority of Japanese people who celebrate Christmas do so for the sake of their children’s well-being, rather than for religious reasons. Small toys, dolls, paper ornaments, gold paper fans, lanterns, and wind chimes decorate Christmas trees. Candles are also placed on the branches of the trees. The origami swan is a popular ornament. To ensure that war will never happen again, thousands of Japanese children have exchanged folded paper “birds of peace” with young people around the world.