Santa Claus, freshly baked cookies, stockings hung by the fire, your neighbor's stale fruitcake; Christmas comes with many traditions. Some which are even debated, like the Christmas tree. Most of us have one in our homes. We enjoy the smell, the look, the nostalgia. If someone asked you why you drag this live tree into your house, would you simply answer, "Tradition"? How many of us actually know the history of our beloved Christmas tree?
The tradition of celebrating the winter solstice with trees or greens is an ancient practice. Even the Egyptians would bring green date palms into their homes to symbolize the flourishing of life. The Romans celebrated something called Saturnalia, a festival in honor of Saturn, the god of agriculture. They used greens to decorate their homes. In Great Britain, the Druids used evergreens for solstice rituals. They also hung the branches over their doorways to ward off evil spirits. It's the evolution of these customs through history that has brought us our modern day Christmas tree.
There is much folklore surrounding the origins of the Christmas tree. Saint Boniface, a 7th century monk from Devonshire, traveled to Germany. It is said that he interrupted a Pagan sacrifice taking place at an oak tree by knocking the tree down with the strike of his fist. After it fell, a fir ascended from where the oak once stood. Historically, the first decorated Christmas tree is attributed to Martin Luther. One story says he decorated the tree with candles to show his children the lights reflecting from heaven.
Up until this point in history using a tree to celebrate the Christmas season was a Germanic practice. In the early 19th century it began to spread, but only amongst nobility. The Christmas tree was not introduced into the English custom until around 1840, when Queen Victoria married Prince Albert. He brought the practice over from his native land. Since Queen Victoria was quite liked by her people, they adopted the tree in their celebration. The United States most likely came upon the tradition via Hessian soldiers from the revolutionary war, or German immigrants.
The Christmas tree tradition had a slow start. It wasn't until 1920, or so, that it became commonplace in American homes. Regardless of what holiday you celebrate, I think everyone can find the beauty illuminating from a Christmas tree. It traveled through many incarnations, and endured a tumultuous history to be the Christmas tree we know today.