History of Christmas Trees and Christmas Tree Traditions

The other day Hazel asked me about the history of Christmas trees. I knew I had read something about it being a German tradition when I was doing research for the Advent Around the World post. Yet, I had also read something about pre-Christian time in the history. Now I know since no one knows the actual date of Jesus' birthday,  the Pope and the higher ups in the Catholic Church decided to make Christmas near the winter solstice in hopes of ending/combining the Pagan celebrations. Evergreens were often used to decorate in the winter since they held a special meaning since they were always green and reminded them of the green plants of other seasons. I needed to find a book to explain it all to Hazel accurately. We found O Christmas Tree: Its History and Holiday Traditions by Jacqueline Farmer at our library. 


There is a legend that Martin Luther was the first to put candles on the evergreen tree after walking home one night and viewing the stars through the tree branches. It was such a beautiful sight he wanted to share it with his children and did this by putting candles on the evergreen tree that he brought in. There is also a legend that a missionary from Britain named Boniface came to Germany and discovered a tribe at the sacred Oak of Donar about to sacrifice an animal. To stop it he chopped down their sacred tree. Then he pointed to a small fir tree and told them that fir tree is a holy tree since its triangular shapes represents the Trinity of Christianity and its branches point toward heaven. He urged them to bring evergreen trees into their homes and surround them with gifts for their family as signs of love and kindness.

Candle on Christmas tree 4
Candle on German Christmas Tree By Gerbil (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

The Christmas tree took many traditions over the centuries. From the 11th to 16th century Bible-based plays were popular. One was the Paradise play about Adam and Eve. It included a fir tree with shiny red apples. The colors red and green became the colors of the Christmas season and the Paradise tree evolved to the Christmas tree.

In the 1600s Germans decorated Christmas trees with nuts and fruit and eventually ginger cookies shaped like bells, angels, and stars. Tinsel was made from real silver to give the tree a sparkle. German settlers brought the Christmas tree tradition to America.The first record of a Christmas tree being on display in America is in 1830, however Germans had Christmas trees in their homes and community ones as early as 1747. However as late as the1840s Christmas trees were seen as a Pagan symbol they were not widely accepted. In Massachusetts it was against the law to celebrate in any way besides going to church on December 25th from 1659 until the 19th century. In 1856 Christmas was made a legal holiday in Massachusetts.  On June 25, 1870 Christmas became a national holiday in the United States.

Bundesarchiv B 145 Bild-F030764-0025, Produktion von Christbaumschmuck
Glass Blowing Bundesarchiv, B 145 Bild-F030764-0025 / Reineke, Engelbert / CC-BY-SA [CC-BY-SA-3.0-de], via Wikimedia Commons
In the late 1800s Americans became fascinated with the glass-blown ornaments arriving from Europe. Around the same time angels and glittering stars became popular tree toppers. Christmas trees themselves have evolved over the years with the introduction of artificial trees. In the 1800s feather Christmas trees were popular.

Antique feather tree2
Antique Feather Tree By Melinda Sheltonderivative work: IvoShandor
(Antique_feather_tree.jpg) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
In the 1960s trees were aluminum or plastic and not always green.

Aluminum christmas tree1
Vintage Aluminum Tree By fireflythegreat (Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Christmastree by Albedo
Artificial Tree By me (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons
From 2009 on many artificial trees come pre-lit.
Pre-Lit Source
 Many people however still prefer a real tree. Some cut it down and others bring them in with dirt and have a live tree which can be planted outside after Christmas. Sources: O Christmas Tree by Jacqueline Farmer and History of Christmas Trees.

Christmas tree traditions differ from country to country and from family to family. I asked the bloggers in Multicultural Kid Bloggers to share their traditions and here is what I got.

My Xmas tree 2011
Christmas Tree in Italy By Massimilianogalardi (Own work) 
[CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
In Italy according to Giuliana most Christmas tree traditions are similar to the ones in the United States however Americans laugh when they hear they leave out clementines and red wine for Santa.

√Ārvore de natal na Galeria Solar de Laranjeiras
Christmas Tree in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil By Eduardo P (Own work)
 [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Stephen of The Head of the Heard  says the traditions of Brazil are similar to the United Kingdom. In the United Kingdom he remembers leaving mince pie and beer for Santa and in Brazil it is always an artificial tree.
Frances of Discovering the World Through My Son's Eyes shares a Charamico, a traditional Dominican Christmas Tree Tutorial

Rita from Multilingual Parenting shares her childhood memories in Finland. They would walk through deep snow for an hour to find the tree in their forest or someone else's. In those days she says there was plenty of forest and people did not mind if you cut down one of their trees. Nowadays she says you would stick to your own forest or buy one. The tree was brought in and decorated on December 24th and stayed up until January 13th (the 20th day after Christmas). She shares her family traditions now in the United Kingdom in her post, Our Christmas. She discusses a few of the differences between the United Kingdom and Finland.
Annabelle of the piri-piri lexicon shares some of her alternative Christmas trees. She loves the traditions, but is trying to get away from the expenses of the Christmas Business.
 Becky at Kid World Citizen shares her family traditions in the United States in The Importance of Family Traditions and a Look at Ours.

I also shared some of our customs of our Christmas tree and how it is filled with memories a few years ago.

What are your Christmas tree traditions if you celebrate? If you do not, do you have a new year's tree or anything else?


  1. Our Christmas tree is now put up at the start of December. We buy or make an ornament for the tree every year. This means that our tree is full of memories. We also now have an advent of mini books. They tell the story of Jesus. We open one each day and then it hangs on the tree

  2. enjoyed this post and learned some new things!!


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