As is our custom during the holiday season, we will, from time to time, run short essays on the origins of some of our holiday traditions. With the Governor's Carolighting tomorrow and the lighting of the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree in New York later this week, what more appropriate time to look at the history of the Christmas tree.
While the ancient world used evergreens to commemorate the winter solstice (December 21 or 22), the Christmas tree, as such, had its beginning in Germany about 1500. Reputedly, Martin Luther had the first Christmas tree. According to the website Christmas-tree.com, “Luther was walking through snow-covered woods and was struck by the beauty of a group of small evergreens. Their branches, dusted with snow, shimmered in the moonlight. When he got home, he set up a little fir tree indoors so he could share this story with his children. He decorated it with candles, which he lighted in honor of Christ's birth.”
Christmas trees got their start in this country with Hessian troops during the American Revolutionary war. Legend has it that these troops were so taken with a candlelit evergreen tree in Trenton, N.J, that they abandoned their guard posts and celebrated long into the night. In a surprise attack, General George Washington defeated the Hessians at the Battle of Trenton on December 26, 1776.
According to the History Channel website, Christmas trees were slow to catch on in this country. Art first frowned upon by New England Puritans; it wasn’t until 1846 when Queen Victoria and Prince Albert had a Christmas tree that the tradition began to catch on. At first, trees were erected for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and only in homes. Generally, Americans decorated their trees with homemade ornaments while Europeans used apples, nuts, and marzipan cookies. Lighted by candles, it was quite common to keep a bucket of water nearby. With the advent of electricity, the season for trees grew much longer and it became commonplace to set up trees in public places such as town squares, parks, etc.
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