Unlike flowers, it’s not very common to see a tree in someone’s house. Unless it’s December of course! Trees require a lot of resources and space which make them poor house plants, and unless it’s of the Christmas variety, a tree in your house is probably not a good thing. So what brought about this tradition and how has it evolved. For this special entry in the blog, we’ll be talking about the history of this famous fir.
So what is a Christmas tree? You may be surprised to know there are many different kinds, but they all fall under the category of “evergreen conifer”, including fir, pine, and spruce trees. Basically anything trimmable into that desireable triangular shape is used around the world as a Christmas tree! As plants are regional, where you live may decide what type of fir or spruce you’re getting.
How did the tradition originate? Like many holiday traditions the Christmas tree has pagan roots. Seen as a symbol for life, trees were worshipped by many ancient civilizations. Other than their symbolic comfort, we start to recognize where certain traditions related to the tree originate with Medieval “mystery plays”. One such play, performed on the name day of Adam and Eve on December 24th, the tree is identified as the “tree of paradise”. It is decorated with apples similar to that of the tree in the Garden of Eden. These ornamental apples were later replaced with shiny red balls we now typically see on trees. In the 16th century it is said that Martin Luther would light candles on these trees, which would later be replaced with Christmas lights. Because of this, Christmas trees were considered a Protestant custom, until it’s widespread popularity outside of Germany freed it of it’s denominational roots in other parts of the world.
This was largely due to influential figures and families adopting the tree’s use. When Queen Victoria married the German Prince Albert they brought the tradition to the wealthier middle class, interested in escaping the cold industrial revolution to a simpler time of familial bonding. This was introduced to Victoria as a child by her grandmother, German-born Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. Her association with the tree and the presents as a little girl made it a permanent Christmas custom for the royal family. This resulted in the first advertisements for “Christmas Trees” as a product for sale. This drove demand for all classes to take part in decorating and placing presents under the tree.
The Christmas tree was just too good of an idea to fail. Combined with other traditions from around Europe, the Christmas holiday eventually became a melting pot of rituals centered around Christianity that most people in America celebrate regardless of whether they’re religious or not. Presents, stockings, Santa Claus, decorated trees, all culminating in a bright point for the cold winter. The tree’s comforting nature and seasonal spirit has cemented it in western culture, something adults and children both appreciate for similar reasons.