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A Brief History of Christmas Trees

Decorating Christmas trees with lights and ornaments is a popular tradition for many Americans. People stand spruce, fir, and pine trees in their homes in December. The tradition dates back to evergreen boughs that Europeans hung in ancient times. Find out more in this short history of Christmas trees.

Evergreen Boughs in Ancient Times

The Christmas tree Americans today decorate has its origins in Europe. In ancient times, Europeans decorated their homes with evergreen boughs in winter. Plants and trees took on new meaning in the winter months.

Evergreen boughs hung over doors and windows in homes. While the greenery was attractive, it mainly served spiritual purposes. Many people believed that the evergreen would ward off evil spirits and witches. Prevalent, as well, was the belief that a person’s sickness could be treatable by hanging of the branches within houses.

Winter solstice celebrations also featured evergreen bunches. In the Northern Hemisphere, winter solstice is the shortest day of the year. It has the longest night and falls on December 21 or 22.

Solstice celebrations began to celebrate the healing of the sun god. Europeans widely believed the sun was a god. In holding celebrations that included the tree boughs, the people urged the god to recover from sickness and bring sunshine and summer to them. Evergreen boughs symbolized health and healing, as well as everlasting life.

Christmas Tree Decorating Ideas: German Origins

In the 1500’s, in Germany, Christians began decorating firs, adding to the history of Christmas trees. Some Germans also built wooden pyramids and decorated them with evergreens and candles. German settlers brought the tradition to the United States in Pennsylvania in the 1830’s.

Americans did not welcome Christmas trees at first. They viewed the trees as pagan symbols. Decorating trees and singing Christmas carols, many Americans believed, made a mockery of Christian traditions.

As numbers of German and Irish immigrants grew in the United States, the American belief undermined. Immigrants became a substantial part of the U.S. population during the 19th century. In 1846, a post in the London News made many Americans embrace decorating Christmas trees.

More on Christmas Tree History

The Long Times published a sketch of members of the English royal family around a Christmas tree. The prominent people in the drawing were Queen Victoria and her German Prince Albert. Victoria was popular in London – across all of England, really – and America. Her endorsement of the Christmas tree, apparent in the sketch, helped bring acceptance of it to Americans.

Today, the lighting of the Rockefeller Center tree occurs annually in New York City. Each year, people light and decorate Christmas trees in houses and businesses across the nation. The tradition’s origins date back to ancient times, in Europe, when evergreen boughs hung over doors and windows. German immigrants to the US also encouraged the Christmas tradition that many Americans celebrate each winter.

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