The history of the Christmas tree

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Christmas tree with presents
It wasn't until the 19th century that Christmas trees in America were common
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What is the meaning of the Christmas tree?

One of the most recognized and celebrated symbols of Christmas is the Christmas tree. Families gather to decorate their tree with lights, ornaments, tinsel and an angel or star on the top. While many people enjoy the tradition of the Christmas tree, most do not know the history or meaning behind it.

Religious Meaning

The history of the Christmas tree begins in the 7th century with a monk, Saint Boniface from Devonshire, who traveled to Germany to teach the word of God. While he was there, he spent a great deal of his time in Thuringia, an area that would become the cornerstone of the Christmas decoration industry. Legend has it that this monk used the triangle shape of a fir tree to explain the trinity of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Converted people began to look at the fir tree as the tree of God and by the 12th century, it was a symbol of Christianity. In central Europe, people hung fir trees upside down from ceilings at Christmastime.


The first decorated tree was at Riga in Latvia in 1510. The history of the Christmas tree continued in the mid 16th century, when Christmas markets became popular and allowed buyers to purchase Christmas gingerbreads and wax ornaments to hang on the tree.

Tinsel was invented in Germany in about 1610. At that time, real silver was used and machines were invented that pulled the silver out into thin wafer-like strips. While the silver was durable, it tarnished easily, especially when close to the candles. Although a mixture of silver and lead was tried as a replacement, it was too heavy and often broke under its own weight, so silver was used until the mid-20th century.

The first Christmas tree came to England with the German Georgian Kings. It was at this time that German merchants living in England decorated their homes with a Christmas tree; however, the British were not fond of the German monarchy and consequently did not copy this tradition. Decorations for these early Christmas trees included beads, wire ornaments and candles.

Decorations were homemade with quill snowflakes and stars, sewed patches for secret gifts and small paper bags for sugared almonds and other delicious treats. Small beads and drawn out tinsel came from Germany along with beautiful angels to adorn the top of the tree. Candles were often set in wooden hoops for safety.
In the 1850s shaped glass bead, garlands became the rage and while these were available in Germany, they were not produced in large enough quantities to be popular in Britain. In the 1860s small toys were hung on trees for a festive feel.

By the 1870s glass ornaments were being shipped in from Germany and it became a status symbol to have many of these expensive ornaments on the tree. Virtually all glass ornaments were made in Lauscha, a small town in Thuringian Germany. In 1882, electric lights were introduced and 1892 metal hooks for hanging the glass ornaments were invented.

Popularization of the Christmas Tree

In 1846, the history of the Christmas tree took an important turn when the royals Queen Victoria and the German Prince Albert were illustrated in the London News standing with their children around a Christmas tree. Since Victoria was very popular, what she did normally became the norm; thanks to the picture, Christmas trees became popular in Britain as well as in the fashionable East coast American society. In addition, Russia began to embrace the tradition of the Christmas tree when Princess Henrietta of Nassau-Wilbur introduced one in Vienna. The custom spread across Austria in the following years. In France, the first Christmas tree was introduced by the duchess of Orleans.

The history of the Christmas tree in America began when early trees were brought into America by Hessian soldiers. These did not immediately become popular. While German settlements in Pennsylvania were introduced as early as 1747, the rest of America was slow to adopt the tradition. It wasn't until the 19th century that Christmas trees in America became the norm.

The history of the Christmas tree has had many stages. In the 1960s it was popular to have an aluminum tree with all the same colored decorations. Synthetic trees have become popular to avoid the mess associated with the needles from real trees, however many still choose to have a real tree in their home.

With its rich tradition and background the history of the Christmas tree is interesting and important to those who celebrate Christmas. 

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