Though many people cannot imagine Christmas without a Christmas tree, very few actually know the origins of the tree or how its decorations and appearance have transformed over the years to become what we know today. Want to know more? Read on to learn how the Christmas tree became the center of millions of homes around the world at Christmas time and the different forms it’s taken over the years.

Origins of the Christmas Tree

xmas tree

Image via Flickr by Sister72

The first documented use of a decorated Christmas tree occurred in Riga, Latvia in 1510, where the local merchants’ guild decorated a tree with artificial roses in the marketplace, danced around it, and then set fire to it. Later, in the 1600s, it became quite common in Germany to decorate fir trees with apples, gold foil, multi-colored paper, and other edible treats like gingerbread, wafers, and sweets. Though initially considered a pagan tradition, during the 17th century the trees played a central role in the “miracle plays” depicted on December 24, originally Adam and Eve’s Day on the early Christian calendar.

In the 1700s, bringing evergreen tips into homes at Christmas time and hanging them from the ceiling was widely popular in German and Austrian regions. During this time as well, the first accounts of candles being used to decorate the trees arose out of France. Also, tinsel, originally made from thin strips of beaten silver and invented in Germany, was later transformed into the plastic tinsel that became widely popular and accessible to more people for decorating their trees.

However, it was not until 1841, when Queen Victoria urged her German husband, Prince Albert, to decorate a Christmas tree in Windsor Castle like he had done as a child, and the drawing was later published in the London News, that the Christmas tree became widely popular in both the U.K. and U.S. The decoration for Victorian era trees included candles, sweets, an angel, ball ornaments, and toys.

Changes to the Christmas Tree Over the Years

In response to major fires in the U.S. caused by Christmas tree candle decorations, Ralph Morris invented the first electric Christmas tree lights in 1895. Just a few years later, widespread concern about deforestation caused by Christmas tree harvesting brought many conservationists and magazines to encourage people to use alternatives like artificial trees as well as large branches wrapped in white cotton to resemble snow. Christmas trees made from colored ostrich feathers also became briefly popular at parties in the early 20th century.

The Christmas Tree Today

Today, the Christmas tree remains an important part of the holiday season in the United States and Europe as well as in many countries around the world that celebrate Christmas. Decorations like tinsel, ball ornaments, and toys like the nutcracker remain popular, as well as edible decorations like candy canes and garlands made of stringed popcorn. In addition, self-lit Christmas trees are now available as well as ones with battery-powered LED lights. Entire stores like ChristmasLightsEtc.com specialize in all things Christmas, including artificial trees, lights, and decorations, and major department stores set aside an area for Christmas decor each year.

This Christmas, you’ll be able to appreciate the history of the Christmas tree and how it became one of the most important symbols of the season.