Christmas is a celebration that includes many traditions. Perhaps the most popular tradition of all is the decorated tree. Christmas trees have become synonymous with the holiday, whether they are real or artificial. How did Christmas become a part of trees?
Christmas Trees were used in rituals since ancient times. Many believe it originated in Germany. According to legend, St. Boniface met pagans who were preparing to sacrifice an oak tree to the god Thor (Donar). Boniface took an axe to the tree and, when their god failed to strike him down, he declared to the stunned pagans that a nearby tree was their "holy tree". Other sources also report that a fir grew at the spot of the fallen oak.
It doesn't matter if this tale is true, but evergreen trees were a part of Christian rites in Germany. In the Middle Ages, "paradise" trees began to appear in Germany. These evergreen trees were meant to symbolize the Garden of Eden. They were decorated with apples and placed in homes on December 24, which is the religious feast of Adam. Additional decorations were also added. Martin Luther was said to have hung light candles on a tree for the first time in 16 century. Paradise trees became Christmas trees. Christmas trees became a German tradition by the 19th century.
Germans moved to England, and took Christmas trees with them. In the 1790s Charlotte was a German-born wife to King George III and decorated trees for Christmas. It was Albert and his wife, Britain’s Queen Victoria who popularized this tradition among the British. In 1848 a picture of the royal family surrounded by a decorated tree was published in a London newspaper. Christmas trees quickly became a common fixture in English homes.
The United States was also home to Christmas trees introduced by German settlers. However, the practice was not widely accepted at first. Because of its pagan roots many Puritans opposed Christmas. Officials of the Massachusetts Bay Colony even outlawed celebrating Christmas. They were so opposed to the holiday that they closed their churches on December 25. The 1820s were the first year Christmas was popularized in America. According to some reports, the country's first Christmas tree was installed in the 1830s. The influential magazine Godey's Ladies' Book helped spread the popularity of the Christmas tree. In 1850, the British royals were illustrated in an 1848 illustration. However, the American version of the family was changed to make it look American. These and other efforts made Christmas trees more popular in America by the 1870s.
Christmas trees were popular all over the globe, but they started to cause damage to forests, particularly in Germany. In the 1880s, artificial goose-feather trees were made in Germany. These trees were exported to other countries and eventually the goose feathers were replaced with other materials. In the 1930s, a toilet bowl brush manufacturer allegedly created an artificial tree from surplus material. These bristle trees were popular, but eventually they were replaced by aluminum and plastic versions. According to data from the American Christmas Tree Association in the United States, 84% of Christmas trees that were displayed by American households in 2021 was artificial. Only 16 percent were real.