What Is the Origin of the Christmas Tree?

What Is the Origin of the Christmas Tree? image by ClickArt by Broderbund


If you've trampled through the woods to cut down a Christmas tree, you know how magical it is when you find that special tree. It might be the first one you see or the one you've watched grow all year. Whatever your background, picking out a Christmas tree and decorating it is something everyone loves to do, especially if you see the wonderment through the eyes of a child. But where did this tradition of bringing a life tree into a home begin? There are legends and theories, but only written history can provide an answer.


Evergreens have been a symbol of life since early history. Bringing greenery into the home during winter symbolized life when death was near. The Romans celebrated prosperity by decorating their homes with greenery during the feast of Saturnalia, in honor of the god of agriculture. The Egyptians brought palm trees into the home to symbolize life. In Great Britain, the Druids, woods priests, used holly as a symbol of eternal life.


The first recorded history of a tree decorated to celebrate Christmas originated in Germany in 1521 in the region of Alsace. The tree did not have lights; in fact, the first mention in history of decorating a tree with candles occurred in the 17th century. It is believed that the first use of a Christmas tree in America was in the 1700's when German immigrants arrived and settled in Pennsylvania. In England, the Christmas tree was introduced at Windsor Castle in 1841. Later, in 1850, Charles Dickens referred to the tree as a "new German toy." In 1851, the first retail Christmas tree stand was set up in New York City, and the first public lighting of a Christmas tree was in 1912 in Boston.


Legend says that Martin Luther was the first to bring a tree inside and light it. He was traveling through the woods in 1500 and was stunned by the beauty of snow on the evergreens. When he returned home, he set up a fir tree with candles in honor of Christ's birth. There is no historical proof to support this. There is, however, historical evidence that the Christmas tree originated in Germany.

Time Frame

The evergreen tree used to celebrate Christmas was a custom that grew slowly in America. Puritans banned Christmas because of the association it had with inappropriate social behavior. The struggle against Christmas and the use of Christmas trees continued as more people with different views settled in America. A Cleveland minister in 1851 almost lost his job for bringing a tree into the church. Schools in Boston stayed open on Christmas Day until 1870. However, by 1900, one in five Americans had a Christmas tree, and by the 1920's, the Christmas tree was used universally.


The Christmas tree farm began during the Depression when nursery owners couldn't sell their trees for landscaping. They cut down the trees and sold them for Christmas trees. People liked the idea because the trees had a more symmetrical shape. Today, the Christmas tree farm business is growing in popularity. Families can trample through the woods, pick out their own tree, and return to the tree stand for a cup of steaming hot cocoa.

About this Author

Pauline is a retired teacher with 27 years experience teaching English to high school students. She holds a Bachelor's Degree in Language Arts and a Master of Education Degree. Now retired, she writes for eHow, Demand Studios, Bright Hub, and Helium. She has awards writing fiction including a published story with Women on Writing.

Photo by: ClickArt by Broderbund

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