Unveiling the Evergreen Tradition: A Deep Dive into the History of Christmas Trees

Unveiling the Evergreen Tradition: A Deep Dive into the History of Christmas Trees



The glittering lights, the shimmering ornaments, and the scent of fresh pine—all hallmarks of the beloved Christmas tree. This iconic symbol of the holiday season has a rich history that spans centuries and traverses cultures. Long before the advent of Christianity, evergreen plants held a special significance for people during the winter months. This article unravels the captivating journey of the Christmas tree, exploring its roots in ancient traditions, its evolution, and its enduring presence in homes around the world.


Ancient Roots and Symbolism:

The fascination with evergreen plants during the winter months predates Christmas by centuries. In various ancient cultures, including the Egyptians and Romans, evergreen boughs were hung over doors and windows as a symbolic gesture. These green adornments were believed to ward off witches, ghosts, evil spirits, and illness. The winter solstice, occurring around December 21 or 22 in the Northern Hemisphere, marked the shortest day and longest night of the year. Many ancient societies celebrated this event, viewing it as the time when the sun god would begin to recover from sickness and usher in the return of summer.


Ancient Celebrations Around the World:

Egypt: The ancient Egyptians, worshipers of the sun god Ra, filled their homes with green palms and papyrus reeds during the solstice, symbolizing the triumph of life over death.

Rome: Romans celebrated the solstice with Saturnalia, a feast in honor of Saturn, the god of agriculture. Evergreen boughs adorned homes and temples, heralding the impending fertility of farms and orchards.


The Druids, Vikings, and Celts:

Druids: In Northern Europe, the Druids, priests of the ancient Celts, decorated their temples with evergreen boughs, symbolizing everlasting life.

Vikings: The Vikings in Scandinavia revered the evergreen mistletoe for its role in the death of Balder, a god of light.


Germany's Pioneering Role:

The widely accepted origin of the modern Christmas tree tradition is attributed to Germany in the 16th century. Devout Christians in Germany are said to have brought decorated trees into their homes. Some even built Christmas pyramids adorned with evergreens and candles. One popular legend involves Martin Luther, the 16th-century Protestant reformer, who is credited with adding lighted candles to a tree. As the story goes, Luther, inspired by the starry sky, decorated a tree with candles to recapture the scene for his family.


Christmas Trees in America:

The tradition of Christmas trees took root in America in the early 19th century, with records of German communities in Pennsylvania displaying cut trees for decoration in the 1820s. However, Christmas trees were initially met with resistance, as they were considered pagan symbols. Puritan leaders in New England viewed Christmas celebrations as unholy, and laws were enacted penalizing any observance of December 25.


Queen Victoria's Influence:

In 1846, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were depicted standing with their children around a Christmas tree in the Illustrated London News. This illustration catapulted the Christmas tree into popularity, not only in Britain but also in fashion-conscious East Coast American society.


Evolution of Decorations and Lights:

Ornaments: In the early 20th century, Americans adorned their trees mainly with homemade ornaments, while German Americans continued using apples, nuts, and marzipan cookies.

Electric Lights: The invention of electric lights brought a transformative change, making it possible for Christmas trees to glow for days on end.


National Christmas Tree and Global Traditions:

National Christmas Tree: The National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony, initiated by President Calvin Coolidge in 1923, became an annual tradition on the White House lawn.

Christmas Trees Around the World: From Germany to Mexico, South Africa to Japan, Christmas trees have become a universal symbol, each country infusing its unique traditions and decorations.


Fun Facts and Trivia:

Christmas trees have been sold commercially in the United States since about 1850.

The National Christmas Tree Association has been gifting a tree to the President and first family since 1966.

Tinsel used to be made with lead foil until the early 1970s when plastic tinsel became the norm.

The best-selling Christmas trees include the Scotch Pine, Douglas Fir, Fraser Fir, Balsam Fir, and Blue Spruce.



The Christmas tree, with its ancient roots and global journey, has become a cherished symbol of joy, hope, and celebration. From the rituals of ancient civilizations to the festive traditions of modern homes, the evergreen tree stands as a testament to the enduring spirit of the holiday season. As families gather around the twinkling lights and festive decorations, they partake in a tradition that transcends time—a tradition that brings warmth and magic to the hearts of millions across the globe.