The Christmas Tree

Pine bough with cones

Some of our Christmas traditions have origins in ancient cultures.  The Christmas tree was part of earlier festivals and observances and has made its way into our current day Christmas celebrations.  The tree probably had its origins in northern European evergreen forests.  According to an article in Time magazine, greenery brought indoors as a decoration predates the idea of the tree.   The English carol “The Holly and the Ivy” is about decorating for the holidays with holly and ivy.   

Holly leaves and berries

I recently read an interesting article from National Geographic about Christmas traditions. I saw it in Apple News.  There’s been competition for having the “first” Christmas tree! The countries of Estonia and Latvia claim to have had the first tree in the mid 1400s and 1500s, respectively. That’s been debated – maybe, maybe not.  According to historical records there was a Christmas tree in the Strasburg Cathedral in 1539.

Christmas tree branch with ornament

Early decorations were handmade from wood and seed pods, etc. Martin Luther may have been the first person to put lights on a Christmas tree – candles, of course.  In 1848, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert had a Christmas tree.  They posed for an illustration for the Illustrated London News with their family gathered around a decorated tree.

All these traditions have been carried to other countries by emigrants settling in new places. The Christmas tree tradition spread in the United States after the mid-1800s.  A popular magazine, Godey’s Lady’s Book republished an edited version of the Illustrated London News picture of the royal family around their tree. The edited illustration converted the royal family into an American family. 

Today there are special Christmas trees in cities and towns around the world. Many American localities have a tree lighting ceremony to kick off the holiday season.  The tradition of our National Tree began in 1923 when President Calvin Coolidge oversaw lighting the tree and it’s been an American tradition ever since. In 1933, the first tree was lit in New York City in Rockefeller Center.   Both these trees are tourist attractions that have been lit annually ever since with the exception of a few years during World War II when there were blackout restrictions.