History of Christmas Tree
The first Christmas tree is thought to have originated in Germany during the time of St. Boniface, an English missionary to Germany in the eighth century.
A fir tree decorated in honor of the Christ Child took the place of the sacrifices made to the Norse god Odin’s sacred oak, which some believe was Thor’s Thunder Oak.
The legend is told that Boniface found a group of “pagans” preparing to sacrifice a boy near an oak tree near Lower Hesse, Germany.
He cut down the oak tree with a single ax stroke and stopped the sacrifice.
In place of the oak, a small fir tree appeared. He told the pagans this was the “tree of life” and stood for Christ.
A legend began to circulate in the early Middle Ages that when Jesus was born in the dead of winter, all the trees throughout the world shook off their ice and snow to produce new shoots of green.
The medieval Church would decorate outdoor fir trees, known as “paradise trees,” with apples on Christmas Eve. They called it “Adam and Eve Day” and celebrated with a play.
Accounts persist that Martin Luther introduced the tree lighted with candles in Wittenberg, Germany, in the mid-16th century.
He often wrote and preached on Advent and Christmas. He loved Christmas and wrote at least five hymns about it. One of his students wrote of Luther, saying:
For this is indeed the greatest gift, which far exceeds all else that God has created. Yet we believe so sluggishly, even though the angels proclaim and preach and sing, and their lovely song sums up the whole Christian faith, for “Glory to God in the highest” is the very heart of worship.
As Luther returned to his home after a walk one winter night, the story goes, he tried unsuccessfully to describe the beauty of the starry night glittering through the trees to his family. Instead, he went outside, cut down a small fir tree to bring inside his home, and put lighted candles upon it.
In a manuscript dated 1605, a merchant in Strasbourg, Germany (at that time), wrote that at Christmas, they set up fir trees in the parlors to
“hang thereon roses cut out of paper of many colors, apples, wafers, spangle-gold and sugar…”
Though Christmas tree selling dates back to the mid-1500s in Strasbourg, the custom of decorating the trees may have developed from the medieval Paradise Play. This play was a favorite during the Advent season because it ended with the promise of a Savior. The action in the play centers around a fir tree hung with apples.
The earliest date in England for a Christmas tree was at Queen’s Lodge, Windsor, by Queen Charlotte, the German-born wife of George III, for a party she held on Christmas Day, 1800, for the children of the leading families in Windsor. Her biographer, Dr. John Watkins, describes the scene:
In the middle of the room stood an immense tub with a yew tree placed in it, from the branches of which hung bunches of sweetmeats, almonds, and raisins in papers, fruits and toys, most tastefully arranged, and the whole illuminated by small wax candles.
After the company had walked around and admired the tree, each child obtained a portion of the sweets which it bore together with a toy and then all returned home, quite delighted.
German pilgrims moved to Canada from the United States in the 1700s. They carried with them a hefty portion of the things related to Christmas we value today—adventure schedules, gingerbread houses, treats, and Christmas trees.
At the point when Queen Victoria’s German spouse, Prince Albert, set up a Christmas tree at Windsor Castle in 1848, the Christmas tree turned into a convention all through England, the United States, and Canada.
Christmas tree next to the portrait of George Washington, East Room, White House, 2019
Many communities vied for the honor of decorating the first Christmas tree in America. One story tells of Hessian (German) soldiers who fought for King George III in the Revolutionary War.
They left their posts unguarded as they were keeping Christmas in Trenton, New Jersey, around a decorated tree. George Washington and his troops were hungry and freezing at Valley Forge, but they planned their attack knowing that the Hessians would be celebrating and thus would not be as able to defend themselves.
Christmas trees became quite popular in the United States following the invention of the electric light. In 1895, President Grover Cleveland decorated the tree at the White House with electric lights. This idea caught on and spread across the country.
Popularization of the Christmas Tree
The Christmas Tree was most successfully popularized in England by the German Prince Albert soon after his marriage to Queen Victoria.
Though the tree had been introduced by a previous royal consort, in 1841, he began the recurring annual custom of decorating a large tree in Windsor Castle.
In 1848, a print showing the royal couple with their children was published in the “Illustrated London News.”
Albert gave trees to Army barracks, and imitation followed. From this time on, the popularity of decorated fir trees spread beyond royal circles and throughout British society, thanks mainly to Albert’s efforts.
Even Charles Dickens called the Christmas tree a “new German toy.” Eventually, he had one in his London townhome.
German immigrants brought the custom to the United States, and tree decorating is recorded back to 1747 in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
How do you decorate your Christmas tree?