Buckle up because we are taking a very quick romp through history to learn the fascinating reason why society is obsessed with Christmas trees today.
Because it hasn’t always been that way.
Not even close.
When you think of a Christmas tree your mind probably conjures up the image of an evergreen tree of some sort.
Evergreen trees have long held symbolic meaning for ancient Egyptians, Romans, and Druids. Evergreen trees were believed to be able to keep away witches, ghosts, evil spirits, and illness. Evergreens also symbolized life during the winter months when the various sun gods or agriculture gods were believed to be sick. (source)
No pressure or anything, evergreens.
Germans are credited with starting the tradition of the modern Christmas tree as early as the 16th century. These were originally referred to as paradise trees and represented the Garden of Eden. Martin Luther is given credit for putting the first candles on an evergreen “paradise” tree, thus evolving the symbol into what we now call the Christmas tree. (source and source)
While the Christmas tree idea was brought to America as soon as settlers crossed the Atlantic, most Americans regarded the Christmas tree as a pagan symbol and were not into it. Not only were they not into it but in Massachusetts they went as far as passing a law in 1659 that made observing December 25th in any way a crime. (source)
You can see why the founding fathers thought it would be wise to put freedom of religion and speech into the U.S. Constitution.
When did Americans fall head over heels for the Christmas tree?
Great question. I’d love to tell you.
In 1846, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were sketched standing around a Christmas tree. Puritanical ideals could not compete with the allure of the English royal couple. Everything these popular royals did became fashionable in England and in the States. That’s when Americans ditched their previous beliefs and went wild for the Christmas tree. (source)
(image: The Christmas Tree at Windsor Castle, by J. L. Williams | U.S. Library of Congress via Wikipedia)
We all know Americans have a “go big or go home” mindset and we often demonstrate that mindset with our wallets. By 1890, Woolworth’s was selling $25 million worth of Christmas ornaments annually. To quantify how large $25 million was at the time, that is $845,250,000 worth of ornaments in 2023 numbers. (source and source)
Speaking of out-sized traditions, the first Rockefeller Center Christmas tree was erected in New York City in 1931 during the Great Depression. I’m sure the construction workers in the city wished that they had $25 million but they pooled what money they did have together to erect a 20-foot tree. On Christmas Eve, they decorated it with cranberries and paper garlands. It wasn’t until two years later in 1933 that the tradition of lighting the Rockefeller Center tree began. (source)
After Christmas, the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree is milled into lumber and donated to Habitat For Humanity. The lumber is stamped with “Rockefeller Center Tree” and the date the tree was displayed. (source)
If I were renovating a house in the future and discovered 2x4s with a Rockefeller Center Tree stamp, I would be so excited.
According to the National Christmas Tree Association, 22,340,000 real Christmas trees were bought in the U.S. in 2022. The median price of a Christmas tree in 2022 was $80. (source)
I did the math for you because I’m helpful that way. That comes to a grand total of $178,720,000 and that doesn’t even include the money spent on fake Christmas trees! I wonder what the Puritans would say about that? Nothing good.
Isn’t it incredibly interesting to learn about how and why symbols change and evolve over time? It is unlikely that blogs will be a thing five hundred years from now but if they are, I’m sure artificial intelligence will have something witty and engaging to say about how the Christmas tree has continued to evolve from these ancient times of 2023.
What do you think about the history of the Christmas tree? Are you Team Real Tree or Team Fake Rree? Or both? I’d love to know. You can always comment on this blog post, email us here, or reach out via Instagram or Facebook.
Thanks for being here today. If you’d like to indulge in another blog post (I won’t tell the Puritans), try one of these!