You may not realize it, but the story of Christmas trees has not started in America, England or even Germany. In fact, America has been one of the last continents to get used to the tradition of decorating the Christmas tree. The story of Christmas trees begins well before the birth of Christ and even before Egyptian civilizations.
Many historians and anthropologists agree that the story of Christmas trees begins in the post-primitive era. Christmas did not exist. It was simply, in one culture or another, a pagan celebration of the winter solstice. The winter solstice marks the shortest day of the year, usually December 22nd or 23rd. The evergreen tree branches were brought in to protect the inhabitants from evil spirits that could cause famine and disease.
Ancient peoples also scattered coniferous branches on their floors, their doors, and around windows. In fact, the tradition of hanging an evergreen garland comes from the tradition of hanging conifers on the mantel to prevent witches, ghosts and spirits from traveling in the chimney.
Persistent branches also serve to ward off the disease. Perfumes such as pine, juniper and balm are still used today by aromatherapists to fend off winter sickness and depression.
Even ancient Egyptians were supposed to play a role in the history of Christmas trees. Of course, there were no evergreen forests in ancient Egypt but during the solstice they filled their palm houses to protect themselves from evil and celebrate the return of their sun god Ra.
European and Mediterranean cultures also have episodes in the long saga this is part of the story of Christmas trees. On the solstice, known as Saturnalia, the Romans decorated their houses with evergreen twigs. This honored the god Saturn whose field was agriculture. Further north, Celtic Druids used evergreen trees on the darkest days of the year to symbolize eternal life. These trees were not decorated as we know them today. They were not much more decorative than Charlie's famous Christmas tree. This is because the function of these evergreen branches was more protective than festive.
In the 12th century, interior trees were brought to the interior. Nobody knows why, but originally, Christmas trees were hanging upside down Christmas ceilings. It was a popular custom in Central Europe. The tree upside down was considered both as a symbol of Christianity and as a pagan symbol. At that time, Christianity was not widespread and the tree could be a nod to pagan and Christian traditions.
It is generally believed that the history of the Christmas tree as we know it began in Germany in the sixteenth century. However few people realize that the tree was not brought in and that in fact, the first decorated Christmas tree was a wooden pyramid. These inner German pyramids were decorated with branches and candles. Often, pots of gherkins were placed on the steps. The pyramidal shape was not a direct inspiration from ancient Egypt, but rather the triangular shape represented the three points of the Holy Trinity: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
The person credited with adding lighted candles to a real tree is Martin Luther – a German Protestant reformer who lived in the mid-1600s. Legend has it that he was inspired by the sight of stars in the night sky that gushed through the limbs of an evergreen tree while he was walking.
The next big development in the history of Christmas trees was the flashback. The tinsel was invented in Germany around 1610. At that time, the garland was real silver and it was easily tarnished by the smoke of candles Christmas trees. The silver was used for foil until the middle of the 20th century when it was replaced by aluminum.
The history of Christmas trees was nonexistent in America until the 1840s. They were sometimes shown as trinkets in travel tours. The Christmas tree decoration ritual was considered sacrilegious for most of the 17th and 18th centuries. It was considered a travesty of the sober celebration of the birth of Christ. In fact, in 1659, people were fined for hanging decorations. This law continued until the 19th century when the tradition was further put into practice by German and Irish immigrants to the United States. The practice was also made more acceptable when Queen Victoria decided to make a right side of the Christmas tree floor-to-ceiling in 1846.
A difference between European customs and American customs seemed to be that Europeans were more inclined to decorate their trees with food, cookies and sweets (and even pickles!) while Americans were more in lavish decorations. Also European Christmas trees tended to be shorter (three to four feet tall) while Americans preferred their trees to be very tall. Both cultures, however, loved decorating their trees with garlands of popcorn and electric lights.
In the 1950s, America saw the advent of the first artificial Christmas trees. This event was celebrated by Charles M. Schulz famous fable about Charlie Brown's Christmas tree. In this fable, Linus, Lucy and Shroeder tell Charlie Brown to go out and find the biggest shiny aluminum tree to use as a decoration for their Christmas piece. Instead Brown falls in love with the most pathetic tree ever and finds the true meaning of Christmas. You can buy a replica of this type of tree that is often called the "pathetic Charlie Christmas tree" online. True to the original drawing, the tree has only one red Christmas ball ornament on a single naked member.
The argument on what is better – a fake Christmas tree or a real Christmas tree is still raging today. The most recent development in the history of Christmas trees is the return of the Christmas tree to the reverse, which is frowned upon by the church as it was in the sixteenth century. If the story keeps repeating itself, the next trend we will see in the Christmas trees is the ancient wooden pyramids that served as artificial trees in the pagan era.