By Pam Bergstrom
Nebraska Forest Service
"Oh Christmas Tree! Oh Christmas Tree! Where Did You Come From?” So, when the Christmas Trees start to go up, or get taken down, do you ever ponder “Where did the Christmas Tree tradition come from?” Well, today we will take a quick look at the history of the Christmas tree.
Before Christianity came to Europe, the inhabitants of the continent would pay special attention to the plants, specifically coniferous trees, which would hold onto their green color throughout the winter, specifically during the month of December when the shortest day of the year, the Winter Solace, would drive away the sunlight. They would sometimes cut the branches or even the whole tree down and bring them into their homes to preserve the memories of spring and to also ward off illnesses, evil spirits, ghosts, witches, and goblins. Next time your kids think they have a monster in the closet, put a Christmas tree in their room to scare off the monster. A multipurpose Christmas tree is a great idea!
When Christianity started to spread across Europe, in 16th Century Germany specifically, Christians would actually chop down an evergreen, bring the whole tree in, and decorate the tree with strings, small toys, and even berries found in the wild, cold winter wilderness. Reformer Martin Luther is credited with putting candles on the trees. Though, this isn’t considered a good thing to do these days. You may want to put on the LED lights instead!
The Christmas tree made the journey from Germany to America in the 1830s by German immigrants to Pennsylvania. Though, it was still a tradition that only occurred in German or German-American homes, it wasn’t a wide spread tradition to decorate a tree during the time of Advent and Christmas. In fact, in Massachusetts at this time, it was illegal to even decorating one’s own home during the Christmas Season and it was tough punishment if you put any type of greenery in your home such as a branch or even a full tree. It was taboo to have trees or decorations in the home. That would change with a Queen and her German Prince.
The Queen was Victoria and her German Prince, Prince Albert, was homesick for his homeland – especially during Advent, Christmas, and New Year. During Christmas of 1846, Queen Victoria permitted her husband, Prince Albert, to go out and cut down a beautiful evergreen and bring it into Buckingham Palace. Then, Queen Victoria and her family decorated the tree with fine ornaments, edible snacks, and candles. The news of the Queen of England having a Christmas tree in her palace inspired people to follow her direction. When a sketch of the Royal Family decorating their Christmas tree and having a grand time hit the presses, people were flocking to areas with evergreen or conifer trees to cut them down and drag them to their homes. People were cutting down trees in city parks, woodlots, and even people’s yards. Imagine waking up and find that your trees are gone and now residing in someone’s living room.
Even the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree has a story. It started back in 1931 when the Rockefeller Center was being constructed, some construction workers put up a make-shift Christmas tree in the middle of the construction site and decorated it with odds and ends from the construction area. Even after construction ended, people continued to pick out a Christmas tree and put it at the center of the plaza and decorated it with homemade ornaments. In the 1940s, they added electrical lights to the tree. Today, the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree will hold over 25,000 lights. Hopefully none go out!