Have you ever wondered about the history of the Christmas tree?
Would you believe that the evergreens used for celebrations date back to the Egyptians? Ancient peoples decorated their homes and places of worship with conifers during the winter as a symbol of the plants that would return in the summer.
The Egyptians worshiped the sun god Ra and decorated their homes during the winter solstice to celebrate the return of summer. The Romans also decorated houses and temples with conifers during the winter solstice to celebrate Saturn, the god of agriculture, because they knew their crops would return soon. The Druids decorated their temples with conifers to represent eternal life, while the Vikings regarded these trees as the plant of their sun god, Balder.
Christmas trees as we know them today began in the 16th century in Germany. It is believed that the Christmas tree was a combination of two traditions. The first, the Tree of Paradise, represented the Tree of Knowledge of the Garden of Eden and was a fir tree decorated with apples. The second, the Christmas light, was a symbol of the birth of Christ as the light of the world and was a small pyramid decorated with glass balls, garlands and a candle on top.
When the two were combined, the tree was decorated with glass balls and a light was placed at the top. Another Christmas tree tradition that began in the 16th century is believed to have started with Martin Luther. He was coming home on a clear winter night and was mesmerized by the stars shining through the pines. He wanted to share this sight with his wife, so he cut down a tree, brought it inside, and put little candles on the branches.
Nowadays we use electric Christmas lights to decorate our trees which were invented by Thomas Edison and his assistants in 1880, although this was not publicly accepted until Grover Cleveland lit the Christmas tree in the White House with electric lights in 1895. Even then, Christmas lights were only available to the wealthy until 1903, when General Electric started selling pre-assembled kits.
While Christmas trees are a popular Christmas symbol around the world today, it wasn’t always so, especially in the early United States. Christmas trees were a Christmas staple in Germany, but in the 19th century many Americans found the tradition strange.
The first record of Christmas trees in the United States came from the German colonies of Pennsylvania. They had community trees as early as the mid-1700s, but it was widely considered a pagan tradition by many Americans until the 1840s. Many Puritan governors and preachers condemned these traditions, and some went so far as to impose fines for those who displayed decorations.
If so many people were against these “Pagan traditions”, What ultimately made the Christmas tree acceptable in American society? For that answer we can turn to Queen Victoria. In 1846, Queen Victoria and her German husband Prince Albert had a picture of their family painted around a Christmas tree.
Queen Victoria was extremely popular, and everything she did immediately became fashionable not only in Britain, but also in the affluent society of the American East Coast. In the 20th century, Americans began to decorate their trees with homemade ornaments, while German tradition called for dried fruits, nuts, popcorn, and cookies. Soon trees were erected in city squares across the country and the Christmas tree became an American Christmas tradition.