How Christmas Trees Started
For quite a while now, there has been an open debate about the modern Christmas tree’s origin. In Northern Europe, Estonia and Latvia are in a catfight as to who between the two is home to the first Christmas tree.
Historians have questioned the authenticity of both claims. But the two countries will stop at nothing to earn the bragging rights title.
Before diving into how Christmas trees started, there are a few fun facts that might tickle your fancy:
- Before the birth of Christ, evergreen trees which are famously used to make Christmas trees, were symbols of winter celebration
- In the past, people also used cherry and thorns were to make Christmas trees
- White House paid host to its first Christmas tree in 1856
- In the United States, almost all Christmas trees are grown on farms
- It takes six to ten years to get a mature tree that can produce the Christmas tree shape upon shearing
Ordinarily, Christmas trees help to promote holiday cheer and spruce up homes. In 2020, Christmas trees were especially needed amid COVID-19 fears and isolating lockdowns.
In recent years, price hikes and scarcity of Christmas trees have become somewhat of a tradition during Christmas festivities.
Going forward, it’s essential to understand how Christmas trees started and turned into a popular holiday tradition.
The Genesis of Christmas Trees
In all likelihood, the real origins of this essential décor appear to be rooted in the Alasce region. At the time, Alasce was considered German territory, but now part of France.
Perhaps this explains why it’s in Strasbourg Cathedral where the Christmas tree was first raised. The tree was decorated with apples, wafers, roses, and other sweets.
Since then, the tradition has grown so popular throughout Germany. So popular was the Christmas tree that the city of Freiburg outlawed felling of pine branches during Christmas festivities.
With this tradition spreading around the world, Christmas trees began to have a negative impact on Germany’s forest cover. In the 1880s, Germans switched to goose-feather trees, and over time these trees were replaced by other materials.
The Christmas tree tradition has its roots in Christianity, and it had confined itself in Germany. In the early 1800s, the Puritans of New England followed suit, whereby they espoused firm views of Christmas in America.
After all, most Americans were reluctant to adopt the Christmas tradition because they believed it had something to do with pagan beliefs. Their doubts, notwithstanding, failure to celebrate or decorate with a Christmas tree was met with severe punishment.
The strict rules governing Christmas continued unabated until German and Irish immigrants came into America across the Atlantic. Despite the Puritan rule, the immigrants went ahead and established their traditions.
In the late 18th century, it was a common tradition in German settlements, such as Pennsylvania, to decorate Christmas trees. Thereafter, German families were caught on by this tradition, and through the years, they have slowly evolved into what the world knows today.
What Do Christmas Trees Symbolize?
Before Christianity surfaced, people had high regard for plants and trees, especially during the cold, winter months. Back then, ancient cultures used to hang tree branches across their doors. Some cultures believed that these branches would keep evil spirits, witches, and illnesses at bay.
Not so long ago, the then Catholic Pope, John Paul, communicated that the Christmas tree is not any different from the ‘tree of life,’ which is found in the book of Genesis. According to him, the Christmas tree is more of a “symbol of Christ.”
How Christmas Trees Gained Acclaim in the U.S
Americans widely embraced Christmas festivities after a popular newspaper pictured England’s Queen Victoria and Prince Albert standing around a Christmas tree. From there onwards, Americans took up Christmas trees as desirable holiday decorations.
A couple of years later, Godey’s Lady’s Book, back then a premier women’s magazine, reprinted the royal family’s picture and captioned it “The Christmas Tree.”
For many years, America’s popular consciousness is cemented with the Christmas tree. This consciousness is quite strong, so much so that, after Prince Albert’s death, Americans firmly believed that he was solely responsible for transplanting this custom from Germany to England.
The American tradition of placing Christmas trees in public spaces dates back to the late 19th century. Besides, the glories of electricity were made known through the first “National Christmas Tree” that was graced at the White House. The 60-ft.-tall tree was plastered with 2,500 light bulbs.
Were it not for electricity, it would not have been possible for this décor to glow days on end.
Today, it’s part of America’s ritual to usher in the holiday season by lighting two U.S. Christmas trees. President Calvin Coolidge graced the first tree’s lighting in 1923, and this décor was dubbed as “the first National Christmas Tree.”
In 1933, the Christmas tree became a symbol of hope because it enabled so many people to get back to work during the Great depression. At the time, a 20-ft.-tall tree was put up at Rockefeller Center. Needless to say, the building was still under construction.
Every year since, these decors have been illuminated, save for a few years when America was grappling with blackout restrictions.
The Entry of This Trendy Culture in the United Kingdom
It’s believed that Queen Charlotte was the first to light a Christmas tree in the royal household. As alluded hereinabove, Queen Victoria played a pivotal role in helping Christmas trees to become a household name as they are today. At one time, Queen Victoria was a trendsetter, which enabled people to morph into this tradition easily.
Now, London is home to one of the most famous Christmas trees that lights up each winter at Trafalgar Square. Owing to its rich global history, the London Christmas tree prompted Norway to start the tradition of gifting the U.K. this décor.
This gift was often a token of gratitude for the strong ties that continued to bind the two countries, especially during World War II. At the height of the World War II, the U.K. provided refuge to the Norwegian government after the Nazi invasion.
The Tradition Remains, But the Tree Keeps On Changing
Fake Christmas trees became a thing after the TIME magazine signified the entry of a new Christmas trend. The changing Christmas tree heralded new era Polyvinyl versions and more the ever before, the fake version looked more realistic.
In 1964, the plastic Christmas tree industry made about 35% of the $155 million annual transactions. So lucrative was this industry that people were making a profit out of the polyvinyl tree.
The situation is quite different in France because it has had a pretty steady market share of artificial trees, which is often stuck at about 20%. This means well for local growers considering that the French are more likely to go for home-grown Christmas trees.
Five decades later, non-natural trees continue to headline the Christmas tree industry. In 2018, 82% of the trees purchased by 95 million American households were artificial. This trend has gained traction probably because artificial trees have a lower environmental impact.
While hailing the environmentally conscious consumers, the National Christmas Tree Association encouraged them to support local economies. In doing so, they should consider the option of purchasing real Christmas trees. Furthermore, the association argues that real trees are grown in the U.S., while artificial trees are manufactured in China.
Apparently, the uptake for this trend does not have anything to do with artificial trees’ price, which is relatively attractive. Its success has everything to do with convenience. With artificial trees, there are no needles to vacuum or early-December shopping runs.
Indeed, a professor in Montreal noted that there is a need to uphold the culture of real Christmas trees because “we live in an artificial environment.” With each passing year, artificial trees are gaining popularity.
Decorating Christmas Trees
Decorations on Christmas trees have taken an extravagant turn, with the emergence of sleek trends, like sunflower trees, rainbow trees, and so on. Some households are ditching Christmas trees altogether in place of houseplants.
In the early 1900s, Native Americans used to decorate their trees using homemade ornaments. On the other hand, the German-American sect had brought the culture of beautifying Christmas trees with apples, marzipan cookies, and nuts. Also, popcorns interlaced with berries and nuts were a worthwhile option.
After putting up a Christmas tree, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert decorated it with cakes, candy, popcorns, and toys. Once word spread, many people across England and North America adopted this decoration tip.
By and large, Christmas trees are a symbol of peace among human beings. Christians believe that the simple act of lighting little lights is a manifestation of the light brought about by the birth of Jesus Christ. Bottom line, the symbolism of Christmas trees quickly finds parallels in the biblical stories.
If you think about it, Christmas trees represent a strange tradition. Be it as it may, people will hardly stop to drag into their homes real or artificial trees and adorn them with lights, tinsels, and baubles. All said and done; it’s difficult to pinpoint how the Christmas tree tradition morphed into how everyone knows it.