A Look at the History of the Christmas Tree
- By Jenna Maxwell
In various parts of the world, including the United States, families and loved ones gather in celebration of Christmas. Traditions vary depending on countries and culture; however, some countries do share similarities in how they celebrate and decorate. The Christmas tree is one decoration that can be found in several nations worldwide. Here in the United States, it is one of the mainstays of the yuletide season. For most families, even celebrating the holiday without an appropriate tree is unthinkable. Many celebrations and activities, such as unwrapping gifts, occur with the tree as the focal point. What people may not realize that this steadfast and beloved tradition hasn't always been a part of the holiday. In addition, it isn't even an American tradition to begin with. The origin of the tree is a fascinating bit of trivia and can make an interesting topic of conversation.
The Origin of the Christmas Tree Tradition
The Christmas tree has origins in pagan traditions in which homes were decorated with evergreen trees or boughs for celebrations, winter solstice, or out of various superstitions. As Christianity began to spread in the 16th century, trees began to make their way into homes as Christmas decorations in Germany. Germans settling in America continued this tradition, although some parts of the country found it unacceptable and attempted to make it illegal for a time. In the mid 1800s, Queen Victoria decorated using a tree in honor of her husband Prince Albert's German heritage. Illustrations of the tree made their way through court and eventually to America. Seeing this as the acceptable and stylish thing to do, people in Britain and in the U.S. began to put up Christmas trees themselves. Several years later, in 1851, the first commercial sales of Christmas trees in America took place. In 1853, the White House received its first Christmas tree courtesy of Franklin Pierce.
Illuminating the Tree
Before electric lighting, people still managed to illuminate their Christmas trees. This was done by using candles. While this was a dangerous practice, it was made possible by either clipping the candles to branches of the tree or using counterweights. The first lighting of a Christmas tree is most often credited to Martin Luther. The first electric lights for Christmas trees were strung in 1882 by Edward H. Johnson, the vice president of Thomas Edison's Edison Illumination Company. The lights were white, blue, and red, and there were only 80 of them. While this display worked, the electric lighting of Christmas trees did not take off right away. This was primarily a result of lack of faith and trust in electricity. It was also an expensive option that was primarily used by wealthy people who could afford to have lights strung together properly. By 1903, however, General Electric began making pre-strung light kits.
Some of the earliest artificial trees were also from Germany. These trees were made in response to deforestation and were made of green-dyed goose feathers. Non-feather artificial trees were introduced in the U.S. in 1883. They were offered by Sears, Roebuck, & Company, and there were two selections, one with 33 limbs and one with 55. Adoption of the artificial tree was encouraged in 1900 when over-harvesting of trees began to threaten the natural supply. This created alarm among conservationists, and the promotion of artificial trees increased. To make them more appealing, cotton wrapped around the tree was advertised as artificial snow. Brush-bristle trees were first created in 1930 by the Addis Brush Company in the U.S. In 1959, trees made of aluminum were also created in the U.S., this time by the Aluminum Specialty Company. These trees were internally illuminated and came in a variety of colors. The most recent interpretation of the Christmas tree was created in 2005. This was an upside-down tree that because of its orientation better displayed ornaments, made presents under the tree more visible, and took up less space than natural or traditional artificial trees.
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