As with many other Christmas traditions, the origins of the Christmas tree originated in Germany. In the seventh century, an English monk from Devonshire traveled to Germany to preach the word of God. He spent time in Thuringia, an area of Germany, which became the center of the Christmas decoration industry. Legend has it that he used the triangular shape of the fir tree to describe the trinity of god the father, the son and the Holy Spirit. Folk began to revere the fir tree instead of the traditional oak. The original Christmas trees were hung, upside down from ceilings as a symbol of Christianity.
In Latvia, the first decorated tree appeared in 1510. Martin Luther is said to have been coming home and seeing the stars shining brightly through the fir trees and lighted the dark night, decided to add candles to his tree.
Christmas trees have been decorated with many different items. Food items were the symbol of plenty and paper flowers were symbolic of the tree in the Garden of Eden. Red flowers symbolized knowledge and white ones for innocence.
Another staple of the decorated Christmas tree is tinsel. It too originated in Germany around 1610. An interesting fact is that the original tinsel was actually made with pulled silver. It was durable, but did tarnish quickly. Silver was used for tinsel up to the mid 20th century.
Georgian Kings brought the first Christmas trees to England. Since the English did not like the German Monarchy, they did not copy their court by putting up Christmas Trees.
A few families did have Christmas trees because of the influence of their German neighbors. The Christmas tree did not grow into popularity among the English until the reign of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. The German born Prince had the family standing around the Christmas tree and it was illustrated in the London News. Since Queen Victoria was very popular, the tradition began to be copied and quickly spread from England to the shores of The East Coast in American society. The first trees were decorated with silver tinsel, silver wire ornaments, small beads and candles. The decorations were homemade and young ladies spent hours working on Christmas crafts. They sewed little pouches for secret gifts, made paper baskets in which sugared almonds were placed and made beautiful angels to sit on top of the tree.
Glass ornaments appeared around 1870. They were imported from Thuringia to England and became a status symbol. The more glass ornaments on the tree, the better the social status. Flags also became popular to decorate the tree as the British Empire grew. Flags of allied countries as well as the Empire were hung on the patriotic trees.
In the 1800’s, many innovations came along to change the Christmas tree forever. The introduction of electric lights, in 1882 and metal hooks for hanging decorations on the tree safely are just a couple.
Trees sat on tables until the late 1800’s. Each family member had a tree on the table and his or her gifts were placed around their own tree. They began to stand on the floor and came in larger varieties and sizes. Soon manufactured trees began appearing. The tree wavered in popularity due to times of mourning for Queen Victoria, wars, and hard times.
Large trees were decorated and erected in public places to help boost the morale of the folk during the hard times.
Real Christmas trees are still very popular, and what fun it is to go and tag your tree early in the fall and have it ready to be picked up on your specified date. It can be a family tradition with each member looking for the “perfect” tree. In this modern time, the manufactured trees have gained in popularity. These perfectly shaped trees can be put up and taken down without a single needle dropping into the carpet. They are so natural looking that many times it fools everyone. You can even buy pine sprays to put on your tree to make it smell real.
The newest item is the already lit Christmas tree. This was a brilliant idea and simplified life for many households. All you need to do is set up the tree, plug it in and then decorate it. No more messing with strings of tangled lights and wrapping them around the tree.