Evolution of the Christmas Tree
Germany is credited with starting the Christmas tree tradition in the sixteenth century when devout Christians brought decorated trees into their homes. Some built Christmas pyramids of wood and decorated them with evergreens and candles if wood was scarce.
The Christmas tree custom became popular in other parts of Europe. In England, Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria made Christmas trees fashionable by decorating the first English Christmas tree at Windsor castle with candles and a variety of sweets, fruits and gingerbread in 1841. Of course other wealthy English families followed suit, using all kinds of extravagant items as decorations. Charles Dickens described such a tree as being covered with dolls, miniature furniture, tiny musical instruments, costume jewelry, toy guns and swords, fruit and candy, in the 1850s.
Most nineteenth century Americans found Christmas trees an oddity. The first record of one being on display was in the 1830s by the German settlers of Pennsylvania. They put one on show to raise money for a local church. In 1851 a tree was set up outside of a church. The people of the parish thought it such an outrage and a return to paganism and asked the minister to take it down.
By the 1890s Christmas ornaments were arriving from Germany and Christmas tree popularity was on the rise around the U.S. It was noted that Europeans used small trees about four feet in height, while Americans liked their Christmas to reach from floor to ceiling.
The early twentieth century saw Americans decorating their trees mainly with homemade ornaments, while the German- American sect continued to use apples, nuts, and marzipan cookies. Popcorn joined in after being dyed bright colors and interlaced with berries and nuts.
Electricity brought about Christmas lights making it possible for Christmas trees to glow for days on end.
With this, Christmas trees began to appear in town squares across the country. All important buildings, private and public, signaled the beginning of the Christmas holiday with the tree ceremony.
Early Christmas trees had, in place of angels, figures of fairies – the good spirits, though horns and bells were once used to frighten off evil spirits.
In Poland, Christmas trees there were always angels, peacocks and other birds as well as many, many stars. In Sweden, trees are decorated with brightly painted wooden ornaments and straw figures of animals and children. In Denmark, tiny Danish flags along with mobiles of bells stars, snowflakes and hearts are hung on Christmas trees. Japanese Christians prefer tiny fans and paper lanterns. Lithuanians cover their trees with straw bird cages, stars, and geometric shapes. The straw sends a wish for good crops in the coming year. Czechoslovakian trees display ornaments made from painted egg shells.
A Ukrainian Christmas tree has a spider and web for good luck. Legend has it that a poor woman with nothing to put on her children’s tree woke on Christmas morning to find the branches covered with spider webs turned to silver by the rising sun.
Another story comes from Germany about spiders and Christmas trees. Long ago families allowed their animals to come inside and view the Christmas trees on Christmas Eve. Because the Christ Child was born in a stable, they felt that the animals should take part in the Christmas celebration. But spiders weren’t allowed because housewives didn’t want cobwebs all over everything. Of course the spiders were unhappy about this, so one year they complained to the Christ Child. He felt sorry for them and decided that late at night He would let them in to see the trees. The excited spiders loved the Christmas trees and all night long they crawled about in the branches, leaving them covered with webs. On Christmas morning the housewives saw what the spiders had done . But instead of being angry, they were delighted. For in the night the Christ Child had turned all of the cobwebs into sparkling tinsel. And even today, tinsel is often used to decorate Christmas trees to add that same sparkle the Christ Child gave the cobwebs long ago, in Germany.