Oh, Christmas Tree, Why Do We Decorate Your Branches?

Many say it’s the most wonderful time of the year, and along with the carols, family feasts, and the spirit of giving, decorating Christmas trees is all part of the fun. The COVID era has demand for Christmas trees booming as people look to brighten their homes this holiday season. Expect to pay a little more for a tree this year (again!) as many farms quickly run out of stock. But have you ever wondered why we put lights and ornaments on trees? While magical, it’s a weird thing to do, isn’t it?

Deck The Halls

Plants and trees that remain green all year-long are traditionally very special. People in ancient Egypt and Rome would hang evergreen boughs to keep their homes free of witches, ghosts, evil spirits, and sickness. 

In the Northern hemisphere, the winter solstice, which falls on December 21st and is the shortest day and longest night of the year, is also very symbolic.

oh christmas tree

According to History.com, many ancient civilizations believed the sun was a god and that winter’s arrival meant that it had fallen ill. They celebrated the solstice with evergreens because it served as a reminder that plants would grow again when the sun god was strong in the summer. 

Oh, Christmas Tree

The National Christmas Tree Association says the first written record of a Christmas tree dates back to 1510 in Riga, Latvia. Records suggest that men of a local merchant’s group draped a tree in roses, danced around it, and then set fire to it. Why? That’s not clear.

Martin Luther, the 16th-century Protestant reformer in Germany, is the man credited with the current tradition of bringing decorated trees into our homes. 

While walking one evening, he fell in love with the sight of the stars twinkling on snow-covered evergreens. He decided to replicate the beautiful scene by putting a tree up in his family’s house and wiring its branches with candles. 

Sound dangerous? It is; don’t try this at home. 

Introduced by German settlers, Christmas trees finally made their way to North America in the 1800s; they were cut at random and sold to Americans beginning in 1851.

Other Christmas Tree Facts

  • German settlers are also credited with introducing Advent calendars, gingerbread houses, and Christmas cookies to North American holiday traditions.
  • Christmas trees were once called “sugar trees” because they were decorated only with edible ornaments.
  •  In the 1900s, conservationists announced that evergreen trees were being overharvested. 
  • The first Christmas tree farm was planted in 1901.
  • Theodore Roosevelt tried to ban Christmas trees and refused to put one up in the White House because he had environmental concerns. His son secretly set one up.
  • The first Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree went up in 1931. The tallest tree ever displayed there was a 100-foot tall Norway Spruce in 1948. Today, more than 25,000 lights decorate the famous tree in New York City.
  • 25-30 million Christmas trees are sold every year in the United States alone!
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Catherine Sherriffs

Editor at Garden Culture Magazine

Catherine is a Canadian award-winning journalist who worked as a reporter and news anchor in Montreal’s radio and television scene for 10 years. A graduate of Concordia University, she left the hustle and bustle of the business after starting a family. Now, she’s the editor and a writer for Garden Culture Magazine while also enjoying being a mom to her three young kids. Her interests include great food, gardening, fitness, animals, and anything outdoors.