Christmas Trees: Then and Now


Trees during the winter season symbolize, joy, winter, and, best of all, Christmas. The magnificent Christmas tree has always been an imperative part of Christmas, or has it? Real Christmas trees date back many, many years but they had a difficult time reaching center stage.

Prior to Christianity, green plants and trees held a special place in homes during frigid winters around the world. People believed green plants, mainly evergreen, symbolized the sun. People hung evergreen boughs on their doors to keep evil spirits, witches. ghosts, and illness out of their homes. Romans, Egyptians, Celts, and Vikings had special rituals and beliefs involving evergreens.

The first recorded Christmas tree dates back to 1510 in Latvia. Men of the city decorated the tree with roses and then set fire to it. It is believed that the roses represented Virgin Mary. Some 20 years later, there is a record of 4-foot trees being sold in a marketplace in France. However, these trees were brought home and left lifeless, dull, and undecorated.

Germany was credited with starting the Christmas tree tradition we know and love today. However, the most popular type of ornaments were edible ones; apples, gilded nuts, and red paper strips. Many people believe that Martin Luther, the 16th century Protestant Reformer, was the first person to add lighted candles to a tree.

In the 1800s the Christmas tree tradition finally made its way overseas. We owe credit to the Germans for this achievement as well. According to record, the first tree displayed in America was in 1830 by a group of German settlers in Pennsylvania.  Up until the 1840s, Americans viewed trees as Pagan symbols and were widely unaccepted. It wasn’t until 1851 that trees became available for purchase. The miniature tabletop trees that were common in Germany grew immensely into floor-to-ceiling trees in America.

People got creative in the late 1800s when Germany introduced the first glass ornaments.  Shortly after, the first artificial tree was introduced in 1883. Many years later, the first Christmas tree farm opened in 1901 after W.V. McGalliard planted 25,000 trees on his land.

At the time, Franklin D. Roosevelt was strongly against the use of real Christmas trees. Roosevelt believed using real trees would eventually lead to the destruction of forests. His sons and a conservationist educated him on the environmental benefits of real trees over artificial trees; Roosevelt started his own Christmas tree farm on his estate in 1930.

The first tree at the Rockefeller Center was displayed in 1931 by a group of construction workers. It was a small, bare tree unlike the famous tree we have grown to love today. Two years later, lights were added to the tree. This holiday season you’ll find over 25,000 bright, shining lights covering the tree in Rockefeller Center!

Today, nearly 25-30 million trees are sold in the United States each year. Christmas trees are grown in all 50 states. Michigan is the third largest producer of real Christmas trees in the country. Ten percent of the country’s Christmas trees are produced here! The top selling species are Scotch Pine, Douglas Fir, Balsam Fir, and White Pine.

Christmas Trees have been a cherished Christmas tradition for many years. Michigan Christmas Tree Association encourages you to celebrate that tradition this holiday season with a real Michigan tree.

Follow our Christmas History Pinterest board for more information and fun facts.  

Sources: National Christmas Tree Association and History

Amy Start
Author: Amy Start