The Christmas tree probably developed in part from the "Paradise Tree." This was an evergreen decorated with apples, used in a popular play about Adam and Eve held on December 24th in medieval Germany. During the 1300s and 1400s, evergreens with apples hanging from their boughs played an important part in plays. Few people could read at that time, so theatrical presentations were used to teach the Bible to the congregation. In those days, December 24th was Adam and Eve's Day, the occasion for a play depicting the dramatic events concerning the Garden of Eden. A tree was the only prop on stage during the play, and it made a lasting impression.Color photogaph of Santa riding on an SUV

santasuvMaybe the explanation should look back to Latvia and Estonia. In the Baltic port cities of Riga, in 1510, and Reval in 1514, where two tree celebrations were recorded. In each city after Christmas Eve, after a festive dinner, black-hatted members of the local merchants' guild carried an evergreen tree decorated with artificial roses to the marketplace. There they danced around the tree and then set fire to it.

Perhaps the tradition dates back to 1531 in Alsace, then a German territory but now part of France. Christmas trees there were sold in the Strasbourg market and taken into homes where they were set up undecorated for the holiday. According to the travel diary of an identified traveler in Strasbourg in 1605, more Germans were decorating their homes with evergreens for Christmas. They trimmed the trees with fruits, nuts, lighted candles, and paper roses. Later decorations included painted eggshells, cookies, and candies.

The first Christmas trees in the United States were probably in 1747 at a German settlement in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. The 1825 Saturday Evening Post was the first place we saw trees mentioned in cities, in this case describing Philadelphia. The earliest tree in American literature appeared in the Token and Atlantic Souvenir in 1836, describing the decoration of a tree. Developments continued, for example, with the 1890s Ladies' Home Journal explaining how to place cotton along limbs simulating snow. The rest, as they say, is history. The custom of trimming Christmas trees had spread rapidly throughout the world.

Today, some form of Christmas tree is part of every Christmas celebration. Decorations include tinsel, bright ornaments and candy canes. A star is mounted on top of many Christmas trees and other Christmas displays. It represents the star that led the wise men to the stable in Bethlehem where Jesus was born.

Christmas Tree Farming

How trees became part of the American Christmas is made up of a series of small beginnings. The first tree farmer is believed to be Mark Carr in 1851, who transported firs and spruces via ox sled and steamboat from the Catskills to New York. An 1895 article from the New England Magazine describes:

Quick and certain was his success, exceeding his fondest expectations. Eagerly customers flocked to purchase the mountain novelties, at what appeared to the unsophisticated country man very exorbitant prices. It did not take long to exhaust the entire stock.

Trees are first mentioned for sale in Philadelphia in 1848. By the 1880s a veritable forest of trees, more than 200,000, were headed for New York. Chicago, Washington, and other markets soon followed. The first time a tree was in the Presidential mansion was in 1856 (Franklin D. Roosevelt was a Christmas Tree Farm in the 1930s). One record from 1907 in New Jersey reports that a tree cost $1. Today there are more than one million acres of trees growing in the U.S. each year.

If you would like to learn more about the history of Christmas Trees go to Why Christmas