Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree – Just How Did You Come to Be?
December 1776. The feeble new nation known as the United States of America was fighting for its life. It was losing.
The winter of 1776 had brought brutal defeats and bone-chilling cold to George Washington’s ragtag Continental Army. Both had taken a severe toll. It seemed as if the upstart revolutionaries might soon be back under the British thumb, the dreams of independence and freedom rendered nothing but a bittersweet memory.
But it was Christmas, and Washington saw an opportunity. Britain’s paid German mercenaries, the Hessians, were encamped about 30,000 strong at Trenton. And on the night of December 25th, they were celebrating the holiday. Lots of food, lots of singing and drinking, all centered around a symbol of Christmas that they had brought with them from Germany: the Christmas tree.
Washington’s army braved the historic nighttime crossing of the frigid Delaware River. His troops attacked and routed the befuddled Hessians at dawn. And the Christmas trees that had been a focal point of the Hessians’ night of celebration bore silent witness to the rebirth of the American Revolution.
Christmas trees were not yet popular in America. But they played a part, if only symbolic, in the birth of the nation that would one day produce more than 40 million Christmas trees every year.
The history of Christmas trees can be traced back to long before the birth of Christ. Ancient cultures such as the Egyptians and Romans treasured evergreen trees and shrubs as symbols of life. They would often decorate the interiors of their homes with boughs and wreaths cut from evergreen foliage.
But the concept of the Christmas tree is thought to have begun in 16th century Germany, where entire evergreen trees would be brought into homes and decorated to help celebrate Christmas.
In fact, the German reformationist Martin Luther is often credited with being the first to add lights to a Christmas tree.
As the story goes, Luther was walking home through a snowy forest on a frosty, crystal-clear Christmas Eve night. As he passed by a group of evergreen trees, the beauty of the snow-dusted foliage gleaming in the moonlight enchanted him. And as he looked to the sky, he was taken by the sight of the myriad twinkling stars that seemed to be adorning the branches of the evergreens.
Arriving home, he was inspired to recapture the beauty of the forest by setting up a small fir tree in his home, and lighting it with candles – the first Christmas tree lights.
Christmas Trees Become an American Institution
During the 16th and 17th centuries, the tradition of the Christmas tree became more widespread throughout Europe. German immigrants – along with the Hessian soldiers – introduced the Christmas tree to America in the 1700’s.
But the Christmas tree didn’t enjoy widespread acceptance among Americans in the beginning. In fact, many rejected the Christmas tree outright because of its roots in ancient pagan religions. Some communities even declared Christmas trees to be illegal, and levied substantial fines against those who displayed them.
The opposition was short-lived, though, and by the mid to late 1800’s Christmas trees were widely accepted as Christmas traditions. By the early 1900’s most American families were displaying Christmas trees every year.
Edward H. Johnson, an associate of Thomas Edison, created the first electric Christmas tree lights in 1882. And in 1883 Sears, Roebuck & Company sold the first artificial Christmas trees.
Christmas Trees Have Come a Long Way…
It’s estimated that Americans spend more than 1.5 billion dollars every year on Christmas trees, both real and artificial. And with the new LED-based lighting that’s available, decorating those trees in spectacular fashion is more exciting, safer, and more energy-efficient than ever before.
These days, most American families wouldn’t consider going through the holidays without setting up a tree. Christmas trees have become a firmly established tradition in America – a nation that might never have come to be without the distraction that Christmas trees helped to provide to a group of reveling Hessian soldiers on a cold Christmas night in 1776.
Jason Woodward is Director of eCommerce for ChristmasDesigners.com, a leading supplier of Christmas lights, Christmas trees, and Christmas decor. Christmas Designers caters to all Christmas enthusiasts, including private homeowners and professional installation contractors. You can also find Jason on https://plus.google.com/107416719753702625652/posts.
By: Chris Delker