The Christmas tree can trace its history back to the dark days of mid-winter when science hadn't yet promised that the days would again grow longer, the sun return and the earth warm. From the pagan rituals designed to encourage the spring's return to the mission work of a Christian monk, the Christmas tree as decoration on Dec. 25 arrives in the 1960s as a manufactured aluminum structure. From palaces to slums, from feather trees to 100-foot evergreens, the Christmas tree remains an integral part of mid-winter celebrations for Christians and as a secular symbol.
Evergreen trees have been part of winter solstice celebrations since the ancient Egyptians, who brought date palm leaves into their homes at this dark time of year. The Romans decorated their homes with the greens and the Druids used evergreen branches, holly and mistletoe in their celebrations. German and Scandinavian cultures brought evergreen trees indoors to demonstrate their home in the coming spring.
Legend has it that a monk from Crediton, Devonshire went to Germany in the 7th Century as a missionary. In Thuringia, he used the shape of a fir tree with its three corners to illustrate the Trinity---Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Converts began to revere the tree and by the 12th Century a common Central European Christmas decoration was a fir tree hung upside down from the ceiling.
The first account of a decorated Christmas tree comes from Lavia in 1510. Merchants of the town are said to have decorated the tree with artificial roses--a symbol of the Virgin Mary--danced around the tree and then set it on fire.
In 1610, legend has it that Martin Luther decorated a small tree with candles at Christmas. The inspiration to do this was a walk in the woods during which he was struck by the beauty of the moonlight on the branches of some evergreen trees. He used the Christmas tree to illustrate to his children the beauty that he had seen in the forest.
By the 16th Century, markets provided Christians with gingerbread and wax ornaments for their trees and, in 1610 tinsel was invented. The first Christmas trees in England were brought by German kings.
The Christmas tree didn't really gain in popularity in England until 1846 when Queen Victoria was drawn with her family in front of a Christmas tree and the image was published in the London News. This depiction also increased the popularity of Christmas trees in America.
However, in America, areas with lots of German immigrants had been erecting community Christmas trees since the mid-1700s. Other areas had not embraced the tradition of the Christmas tree because Puritans banned the celebration of the holiday. In 1851, Mark Carr brought a wagon filled with evergreens into New York City to sell as Christmas trees. In 1853, President Franklin Pierce had a Christmas Tree erected in the White House.
In 1893, Sears, Roebuck & Co. had artificial Christmas trees for sale in its catalogue. Artificial trees for Christmas decorating were first made of feathers. The Addis Brush Co. used the machinery that was used to manufacture toilet brushes to begin manufacturing brush trees in the early 20th century. Silver aluminum trees were introduced to decorating in the mid-1960s.