It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, and for many of us, the holidays wouldn’t be the same without the classic evergreen trees that pop up everywhere in the days following Thanksgiving. Despite the Christmas tree’s popularity, few know the whole story of how the tree became such an iconic symbol of the holidays and why it continues to serve as a centerpiece in our holiday traditions.
The story begins back in Greco-Roman times when evergreens were used as part of pagan winter solstice celebrations that included feasts and parties. Similar rituals were also used by the Druids and many Nordic cultures as part of their own winter solstice rituals. Evergreen trees specifically were chosen because they remained green throughout the year, even in the depths of winter. These cultures, amongst others, decorated their homes and temples with evergreen boughs to celebrate the end of winter and the return of longer days, sunlight, and agriculture.
It wasn’t until the 16th century that German Christians began bringing actual evergreen trees into their homes as part of their own winter solstice celebrations. This was due to their longstanding belief that the evergreen tree was a symbol of everlasting life with God. Around this time, the Germans began to merge the ancient pagan winter traditions with the Northern European evergreen rituals to create the earliest glimmers of the contemporary Christmas traditions that we celebrate to this day.
However, the Christmas tree tradition would have likely stayed in Germany and may not have reached the rest of the world without the help of Queen Victoria of England. Queen Victoria played an instrumental role in popularizing the evergreen tree tradition, especially the decorating of the tree with family and friends around Christmas time. With so much political and economic influence concentrated in England around the middle of the 19th century, the German evergreen traditions became widely adopted in cultures where the British operated as they spread Christmas cheer around the globe.
Despite the rocketing popularity of the evergreen tree in Christmas traditions throughout Europe, indoor trees didn’t make their way into American homes and traditions for several more years. The Americans were less susceptible to the rule of the Queen, and it took another ten years before the colonies opened up to the new holiday custom. The tradition of decorating trees around Christmas was largely considered a “foreign pleasantry” until around 1850.
Fast forward to today and the Christmas tradition is celebrated by more than 2 billion people across 160 countries. Although each culture has their own traditions, the practice of bringing a tree or shrub inside to decorate is commonplace regardless of location. However, in modern-day America, the evergreen tree reigns supreme. Trees such as spruce, pine, and fir trees are generally viewed as the most popular “Christmas trees” with nearly 46 million real trees and fake trees purchased annually (combined). This makes the business of Christmas tree buying and selling a nearly $2 billion industry according to the American Christmas Tree Association. That’s a lot of trees!
From 16th-century German living rooms to the town squares, storefronts, and advertisements across the US and abroad, the Christmas tree tradition that we know and love today took a long and winding road before becoming deeply embedded in our traditions. Sometimes we can take traditions like this for granted, but without them, the holidays would certainly lose a bit of their magic.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year – the Holidays! If you enjoyed this holiday article, we know you’ll enjoy learning about one of the trends of the year – Hygge Decor.
Want even more? We highly recommend this insightful and informative article about one of the most popular Christmas decorations – the Christmas Cactus. Enjoy.