The History of the Christmas Tree

A brief look at the holiday centerpiece

From the Tannenbaum to the pre-lit artificial tree sitting in your living room, we highlight the history of Christmas tree.

The modern Christmas tree dates back to 16th century Germany. In that period, some churches and guildhalls began putting up evergreen fir trees, or Tannenbaums. These trees were often decorated with fruit, nuts, or pretzels, which were then collected by the children on Christmas morning as gifts.

As the tradition gained prominence, people like Martin Luther have been said to introduce other elements to the tradition, including adding decorations to symbolize the stars in the sky. In the 19th century, Russia, France, and England began to adopt the tradition, though American immigrants from Germany claim to have introduced Christmas trees as early as 1777.

Before electric string lights were created, Christmas trees were lit by candles placed in the branches of the tree, a process still used by some to decorate their tree. The dripping wax then fell too often on the floor of the house, along with needles, which added the need for a tree skirt below the tree.

Traditions for setting up the tree vary from place to place. In many countries, setting up the tree previous to the first day of winter -- Dec. 22 -- is considered bad luck, while in others, like Australia, the tree is put up as early as Dec. 1, the normal start date for their school holiday season. In the United States, the day after Thanksgiving is often for more than just getting some shopping deals -- it's also time to bust out the Christmas decorations.

Artificial trees have become very popular in recent years as deforestation, fire danger, and allergies have become leading reasons look into purchase of the reusable trees instead of the annual ritual of chopping down a new fir. Even with pre-lit artificial trees, traditions for decoration vary from family to family.

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