Christmas Tree History
How trees became part of Christmas
For many years before Christ's birth, trees were associated with pagan rituals. The Romans decorated evergreen bushes and trees during the ancient festival of Saturnalia. Celtic Druids honored their gods by tying tributes to tree branches during the rites of winter solstice.When Christianity began to rise in Rome and across the Empire, pagan traditions were adopted and modified. The old rituals lost their ancient associations and adopted symbols of a new life given to the world from the birth of Jesus.
Since then, Christmas trees have shown up in many legends in different countries:
One legend relates to how the tree was miraculously shown to the English missionary, St. Boniface.
- Another identifies the German Protestant founder, Martin Luther, as the first to affix lights to a Christmas tree.
- Germany is accredited with the development and proliferation of the Christmas tree. By 1605, a visitor to Strasbourg wrote of fir trees that were decorated with apples, paper roses, wafers, candy and sugar and housed in parlors. Another possible origin of the Christmas tree is also attributed to Germany, where the Germans created the Christmas tree by combining the Paradise Tree (also called the Tree of Knowledge) with the Christmas Lights (a small pyramid frame with a candle on top).
- From Strasbourg the custom is thought to have passed through Germany to Finland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and most of the rest of the European countries including Britain by the beginning of the 1800's.
- When Prince Albert set up and decorated the first Christmas tree in England, in 1841, the rest of the country quickly took notice.
- The first Christmas tree in America can be traced back to at least 1825 with the mention in the Saturday Evening Post of decorated evergreens throughout Philadelphia. Franklin Pierce, the 14th President, was the first U.S. president to set up a Christmas tree in the White House. It wasn't until the 1850s that Christmas trees were sold commercially in the U.S. The first community-based Christmas tree was set up in New York City in 1912.