It is often overlooked, the reason behind why once a year we put up a tree in our homes and decorate it for the Christmas season. The history of Christmas trees goes back to a few different origins and is commonly connected to the celebration of the winter solstice.
In ancient Egypt the use of evergreen trees represented their God, Ra’s triumph over life over death during the solstice. Early Romans marked the solstice with a feast called Saturnalia in honor of Saturn, the god of agriculture. To honor this event they decorated their homes and temples with evergreen boughs. The Druids in Northern Europe did the same with boughs of evergreens as they believed they represented the symbol of everlasting life.
Most of the time Germany is given recognition for their tradition of the Christmas tree as we are familiar with it now as Christians brought decorated trees into their homes. This is also where the new found tradition of wiring lighted candles onto the branches of the trees.
So how did this beautiful tradition make its way to America? In the beginning of the 19th century most Americans found this tradition to be strange. The earliest marking of this was the German settlers that came to Pennsylvania that had community trees as early as 1747.
Like most things the tradition of the Christmas tree took a while to get to America and become a part of their customs. Like in the 1840’s the Christmas tree was seen as a Pagan symbol and not accepted by most Americans. To the New England Puritans Christmas was a sacred and honored event. They began using the tree in a sort of mockery of Pagan traditions to which any sort of decorating was issued as a penal offense in the courts as it desecrated their sacred event. This continued until the 19th century when the large influx of German and Irish immigrants overwhelmed the Puritan stance on the holiday.
In 1846, Queen Victoria and her German Prince, Albert, were illustrated with their family around a Christmas tree. Due to their popularity this really marked the beginning of the Christmas tree as a tradition in homes.
With the rise of popularity of Christmas trees in homes for the holiday ornaments began coming in from Germany. The early 20th century was met with Americans decorating their trees with mostly homemade ornaments while German-Americans continued to use apples, nuts and marzipan cookies. Popcorn came soon after as it was easy to dye beautiful colors and combine with berries and nuts to make an artful addition to the tree.