History of the Christmas Tree

Luther Amidst His Family at Wittenberg on Christmas Eve, 1536 from Wheat Sheaf

Ancient Egyptians adorned their homes with palm fronds to mark the return of Ra around the winter solstice (Dec. 21).

Romans decorated their temples with fir trees during Saturnalia, a winter festival in honor of Saturn, the God of agriculture.

Northern European pagans thought of the sun as a God. So they put up evergreen boughs also around the winter solstice the shortest day of the year to remind them of the greenery that would grow again when the sun regained its strength in the spring.

Early Christians were taught to “leave the plants and trees to the heathens.”

It wasn’t until Martin Luther that Christmas trees were incorporated into the German Christmas.

“The German Theologian was walking through a forest at night and glanced up at the sky and was awestruck by the thousands of stars twinkling through the tree branches. The wondrous sight reminded him of Jesus departing heaven for earth at Christmas, and Luther raced home to recreate this holy scene for his family by dragging an evergreen tree into his house and decorating its branches with candles.”

German settlers brought to America the tradition of Christmas trees. As were trees to England, when Queen Victoria’s German husband, Albert, set up a Christmas tree in Windsor Castle. Christmas trees were then given the Royal Seal of Approval and they then became fashionable decorations in English houses.

American households quickly followed the tradition. Thomas Edison’s assistant, Edward Johnston, is said to be the first American to put electric lights on his tree in 1882. In December of 1923 President Calvin Coolidge lit the first National Christmas Tree at the White House.

c/o Mélie Spofford and Reprinted from THE WEEK Dec. 2017

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