Christmas Trees Are Fairly New Right?
For thousands of years — long before Christianity or Christ — the plants and trees that remained green all year (evergreens) held significance for people, particularly in winter months. They decorated their homes with branches around their doors and windows, just as today we bring in various evergreens or “Christmas Trees”. These forerunners of today’s Christmas Trees were, among other things, to welcome the returning of spring, protect people from illness, and keep away evil spirits, ghosts and witches.
North of the equator, the shortest day of the year is called the Winter Solstice. Many ancients believed this was due to a god — that winter came because the god had become weak or ill. They celebrated and had feasts and even exchanged gifts (sound familiar?) because this time marked the beginning of the return of new life and growth and longer days.
Ancient Egyptians worshiped the Sun god they called Ra and each winter decorated their homes and doorways with palm rushes to symbolize the triumph of life over death and that spring would soon return.
Early Romans marked the winter solstice with a huge celebration and feast called Saturnalia for the god of agriculture, Saturn. In addition to feasts, they marked the occasion with good will, generosity to the poor and the exchanging of gifts. These Romans also decorated with boughs of evergreen trees. The Druids of Northern Europe, the priests of the ancient Celts, also decorated with evergreens to symbolize everlasting life, while the Vikings in Scandinavia believed evergreens were the special plant of the sun god, Balder because he favored them by allowing them to stay green throughout the year.
Credit for the “modern” Christmas tree as we know it goes to Germany. Devout 16th century German Christians would decorate trees in their homes. It is a widely held belief that the Protestant reformer Martin Luther was the first to add lighted candles to a tree.
Most of the population of the United States in the 19th century saw Christmas trees as strange at best, pagan at worst. The records show a Christmas tree on public display in the 1830s in Pennsylvania by the German settlers.
Queen Victoria probably did more to advance the acceptance of the Christmas tree than anyone in history. In 1846, she and German Prince Albert and their children appeared in a sketch on the cover of Illustrated London News standing around a Christmas tree. Queen Victoria, unlike her immediate predecessors, was a very popular monarch with her subjects and indeed around the world. What she did immediately became popular throughout not only Great Britain but with fashionable American Society. At last the Christmas tree we know today had arrived.
By the 1890’s Christmas tree popularity was on the rise throughout the U.S. and ornaments were being imported from Europe. An interesting note is that while Europeans tended to prefer shorter trees that stood on tables, Americans tended to prefer trees that reached from floor to ceiling.
CHRISTMAS TREE TRIVIA
- Woodinville, Washington is the home to the tallest living Christmas tree, a Douglas Fir reported to be approximately 122-feet tall and 91 years old.
- The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree tradition technically began in 1931 when construction workers erected an undecorated tree in the plaza. The more official Rockefeller Tree tradition began in 1933. The tree today has over 25 thousand lights.
- The first president to bring the Christmas tree tradition to the White House seems to be open for debate. Some sources credit Franklin Pierce in either 1853 or 1856; still others credit Benjamin Harrison in 1888, 1889 or 1891. Apparently what goes on inside the White House was as much a mystery then as it is now.
- The President that started the National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony was Calvin Coolidge in 1923.
- The National Christmas Tree Association has donated a Christmas tree to the President and First Family every year since 1966.
- Christmas trees generally take between 6 and 12 years to mature, but 7 years is the average.
- You can consider a Christmas tree a national crop, as they are grown in all 50 states including Alaska and Hawaii.
- You should never burn your Christmas tree in the fireplace. All evergreens are “soft wood” and can contribute to rapid creosote buildup in the chimney.
- At one time trees such as cherry and hawthorns were used as Christmas trees.
- Teddy Roosevelt, a noted outdoors man and conservationist, banned the Christmas tree from the White House.