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Where Does The Christmas Tree Come From?

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Placing a Christmas tree is your home during the holiday season is a common tradition in Europe and the U.S., and all around the world. Do you know where this custom originated?

Christmas tree with ornaments. Taken by Joe Shlabotnik via Flickr.
Christmas tree with ornaments. Taken by Joe Shlabotnik via Flickr.

Germany.

It is widely accepted that the origins of placing an evergreen tree in your home to celebrate Christmas began in the 16th century Germany. There are a few theories to the exact reasoning behind this, however…

Early Beginnings Of The Christmas Tree

“Happy Christmas”. “Johansen Viggo – Radosne Boże Narodzenie” by Viggo Johansen – “Glade Jul”, Den Hirschsprungske Samling. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.
“Happy Christmas”. “Johansen Viggo – Radosne Boże Narodzenie” by Viggo Johansen – “Glade Jul”, Den Hirschsprungske Samling. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

One is that the 16th century Protestant reformer Martin Luther was walking home on a winter evening and was so taken with the beauty of the stars twinkling amidst the evergreen trees. In an effort to recapture this, he put a tree in his own living room and placed lighted candles on its branches.

Another theory states that the tree was to represent a “tree of paradise” during medieval mystery plays given on the 24th of December, the day of Adam and Eve in many Christian countries. During these plays, the tree was decorated with apples to represent the forbidden fruit. Over time, they became popular to be placed in homes and the apples were replaced by red, shiny balls.

It should be considered, however, that the tradition of placing greenery in the home during winter dates back farm before the advent of Christianity. It many countries it was believed that evergreens keep away witches, ghosts, evil spirits and illness. The evergreens also had a connection with the winter solstice that falls on December 21 or 22nd of each year for civilizations such as the Egyptians, Romans and Celts.

Many ancient people such as the believed that the reason for winter was because the sun god became sick and weak, the solstice meant that the god would begin to be healthy again and that the sun would get stronger. Therefore, they decorated with evergreens as a reminder that the green plants would soon come back again and summer would return.

The Christmas Tree Becomes A Religious Tradition

While the practice of placing a Christmas tree in the home was popular in Germany early on, it was considered an oddity in many other countries such as the U.S. or the U.K. In the U.S., German settlers in Pennsylvania would put up Christmas Trees as early as the 1830s, but it was not widely accepted.

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert around their Christmas tree. By Godey's Lady's Book [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert around their Christmas tree. By Godey’s Lady’s Book [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Many credit a popular royal with the emergence of the Christmas tree as a widespread tradition. In 1846, Queen Victoria of Britain encouraged her husband, German Prince Albert to decorate a Christmas tree like the ones he grew up with in their home. They were sketched in the London News in front of their tree along with their children. As Victoria was very popular with her subjects, whatever she did immediately became fashionable- in Britain as well as the East Coast American Society.

As electrical lights became more available, this made the Christmas tree a safer endeavor (as opposed to candles). Along with lights, people would decorate with homemade ornaments as well as food and other sweets such as candies or Marzipan. In Europe, the trees were commonly only a few feet tall, while in the U.S. they reached floor to ceiling.

The Christmas Tree Today

Throughout the world people everywhere put up trees in their home each year to celebrate the Christmas season. Some go out and chop the tree themselves (a common tradition in the U.S.) or some even put up artificial trees.

Cutting down the Christmas tree! Taken by CJ Sorg via Flickr.
Cutting down the Christmas tree! Taken by CJ Sorg via Flickr.

Christmas tree today. By DR04 (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Christmas tree today. By DR04 (Own work) [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
In the U.S. perhaps the most famous tree is the one at Rockefeller Center in New York City. Check out a video from the History Channel with more information here:

Lit tree at Rockefeller Center. Taken by Anthony Quintano via Flickr.
Lit tree at Rockefeller Center. Taken by Anthony Quintano via Flickr.

Interesting stuff, huh?

[History]

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