By Eryk Schumacher
Christmas Tree is an archetypal symbol of the celebrations at Christmas, something that we always associated with these celebrations – but how did Christmas tree become the symbol that it did? What is the history behind the use of Christmas trees?
There have been many possible predecessors to the Christmas Tree, as many faiths even before the inception of Christianity used trees in their rituals. One example of this is the use of a tree in many Pagan religions, which believed that the universe is constructed on top of a giant tree. That is why a tree was used in many rituals and celebration, as it was supposed to represent a bond with God.
The origin of the Christmas tree as we know it can be traced back to Germany, where the first Christmas trees were used in the area around the Rhine river, where, according to a legend, the Christmas tree became popular thanks to the preacher Martin Luther, who one night before Christmas, he was walking through a forest and saw a spruce tree and decided to bring it home and decorate it for the Christmas celebrations.
For the next few centuries, the tradition of the Christmas tree was confined to the Western German valleys of the Rhine river, that is because the Christmas tree was seen as a purely Protestant custom, hence it was not used by the Catholics in southern Germany. The breakthrough for the Christmas tree came in the early 19th century after the tradition was adopted by Prussian nobility, of which many emigrated to southern Germany after the Napoleonic wars. Because of this, the tradition of the Christmas tree was soon adopted by the Southern German Catholics and Austrians as well, and within a few decades, the Christmas tree was used in celebrations in most of Western and Central Europe.
In the United Kingdom and the British Isles, the Christmas tree became widespread after Queen Victoria’s marriage with Prince Albert, who was German. In 1848, a picture of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert decorating a Christmas tree was published in the Illustrated London News, this picture created a craze for Christmas trees among the British Nobility and the Wealthier Middle-Class. In Britain the tradition of public Christmas trees was born, where large Christmas trees were used in large public celebrations, which made them increasingly popular in the lower classes of Britain.
In the United States, the Christmas tree was adopted at the end of 18th Century, during the American Revolutionary War, where Hessian (German) soldiers brought the tradition with them across the sea from Germany. For the next few decades the use of a decorated Christmas celebration was interned to the German American community, but soon the tradition spread across North America, and by 1850s, the Christmas tree could be seen in most American households.
In 1882 the American inventor Thomas Edison decorated his Christmas tree with electric lights, a year later he published a brochure that offered lighting services for Christmas. These services were used mostly by the upper classes, as the decoration cost $300 in 1890, which is equivalent to $2000 dollars in 2018.
The lights on a Christmas tree were popularized when the American President Grover Cleveland decided to decorate the Christmas tree in the White House with lights, as his daughters were very fond of them. The first commercially available in 1903, where a string of Christmas tree lights could be bought for $12.
The Tradition of the Christmas tree remained largely unchanged after the beginning of the 20th Century, and ever since it became a symbol of Christmas all around the world.