By: Riya Singh
The vast majority of people in the United States partake in Christmas holiday celebrations, including the decoration of a Christmas tree. For a significant time in history, the Christmas tree has been one of the major symbols of the holiday worldwide. Despite this, many people do not know the true origins of this beloved holiday staple. In reality, the Christmas tree actually originates from a tradition in pagan culture, where it began with people decorating parts of their homes with the branches of evergreen fir trees. However, this rendition of the Christmas tree is still far too different from the one we know today, so how did we arrive there?
As the 16th century began, Christians in western Germany began to bring trees indoors for decor, and the age of decorating began in the 17th century. According to an ABC News piece by Penny Travers entitled, “The Christmas tree: From Pagan origins and Christian symbolism to secular status,” it became increasingly common among nobility to have festivals and parties with large trees decorated with gold leaf and candle. As Germans emigrated, the traditions spread across Europe and other parts of the world. However, it did not quite reach the U.S. until the mid-19th century.
Instead, the fully decorated Christmas tree was popularized more globally during the 1840s and 1850s. Queen Victoria’s mother, having grown up in Germany, insisted on a fully decorated tree for a portrait of her daughter and Prince Albert. The portrait featuring the tree in Windsor Castle was published by the Illustrated London News in 1848. This influence reached as far as the U.S., and people all over the world began to decorate the entire tree, bringing it to the tradition we know today.
Despite this widespread tradition, some people throughout the world still have varying traditions when it comes to Christmas trees and decor in general. When asked about her Christmas tree traditions, Christian student at Pueblo County High School, Morghan Autobee, stated, “We typically use ornaments and ribbons going around the entire tree. We also use a star topper,” because, “I was always told it was symbolism that related to the north star that appeared to and guided the shepherds.” In contrast, Pueblo County citizen and Indian immigrant, Shelly Gill, stated, “We celebrated it in India, but the major decorations were mainly in shops and churches, so growing up I never decorated any Christmas trees. Now that we live here, I don’t want my kids to feel left out from the others, so we decorate our trees with ornaments and an angel topper.”
Despite the religious and cultural divide, it is clearly evident that everyone who partakes in Christmas decorations all interpret some beauty and enjoyment from the Christmas tree that we know and love today.