Search This Blog

Monday, December 14, 2020

O Christmas Tree

O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum, wie true sind deine Blätter!

Thus begins the famous carol to an evergreen tree. The origins of the Christmas tree are suspected to go all the way back to the use of evergreens and green palm branches in ancient Egypt and Rome. During the winter solstice celebrations, decorating with evergreen symbolized the return of spring and new birth.

Then a German clergyman—and protestant reformer--named Martin Luther started the tradition we know today. It’s said he was walking home one winter night when he stopped to marvel at the stars twinkling through the branches of the trees. He brought one of those trees home and secured candles on the branches in order to share something of the beauty with his wife and children.

The Christmas tree wasn’t present in America until the mid-1800s, in part because of our Puritan forefathers’ disdain for anything they considered pagan mockery of the solemn celebration of Christ’s birth. Oliver Cromwell preached against “the heathen traditions” of Christmas carols, decorated trees, and any joyful expression that desecrated “that sacred event.” In 1659, the General Court of Massachusetts went so far as to enact a law making any observance of December 25 beyond a church service a offense warranting jail time. Yes,  people were fined for hanging decorations. This continued until the 1800s, when the influx of German and Irish immigrants undermined the Puritan legacy.

The tree as we know it today really took off in popularity when England’s Queen Victoria and her German prince, Albert, were sketched with their children in front of a decorated tree in 1846. That had everyone on both sides of the pond scurrying to copy the popular royal couple.

The early 20th century saw Americans decorating their trees mainly with homemade ornaments, while the German-American sect continued to use apples, nuts, and marzipan cookies. Popcorn joined in after being dyed bright colors and interlaced with berries and nuts.

By 1890, glass ornaments were arriving in the U.S. from Germany, and the advent of electricity brought about Christmas lights, and Christmas trees began to appear in town squares across the country and having a Christmas tree in the home became an American tradition.

As a point of interest, POTUS 26, Theodore Roosevelt, tried to ban Christmas trees in the White House, due to his concern that the cutting down of so many trees contributed to deforestation and he wanted to set a better example. His ban wasn’t successful, however, even in his own home – one of his sons defied him and set up a small tree anyway.

Lest you think the true meaning of Christmas was lost on this evergreen symbol, I invite you to consider that the shape of the tree, a triangle, represents the triune God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And the tree represents Christ and new life.

Merry Christmas!


Visit me on Facebook:


  1. Merry Christmas, Tracy! A fascinating blog. Thank you so much for such an interesting and informative piece.
    I know the Puritans in the UK tried to ban Christmas one year. That was not popular!

    1. Ban Christmas?! I can imagine the kerfluffle. Merry Christmas, Lindsay!

  2. Merry Christmas. A perfect post for the season. I'm so glad that Christmas trees became popular, as I love mine so much I'm thinking of leaving it up until February this year.

    1. C.A., it's a good year to keep it up for a while longer. Merry Christmas!

  3. Merry Christnas to you also, Tracy. I loved the history. Here in "Little London" as Colorado Springs was known, Christmas parties and trees were also part of the celebration. Doris

  4. I know there are still fractions of Christian religions who don't believe in festive displays for Christmas like Jehovah's Witnesses. It seems too dark and sullen for me though. I like lights and decorations. In the cold, bare winter it brings a spark of joy and, to my spirit, a bright reminder of the meaning of the Christmas season.

    Thank you for this history of the Christmas tree, Tracy. I did not know Martin Luther started the Christmas tree tradition.

    I hope your Christmas is very merry and bright...