During the cold winter months, people looked for ways to cheer up their homes and to celebrate the beginning of new life. Evergreens were brought into dwellings for this purpose, and they held spiritual and powerful significance. The story of the Christmas tree evolved from this belief.
Bringing us to the Present
The Puritans were especially strict about Christmas and traditions. In 1659, the General Court of Massachusetts made it a law that December 25 could only be celebrated by attending a church service. If people hung decorations or in any other “pagan” way observed the holy day, they could be fined or worse. Amazingly, Americans followed that stern example until the 1800s, after German and Irish immigrants started arriving and sharing their traditions.
But what really made the Christmas tree popular in American homes came from Great Britain’s Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in the 1840s and 1850s. The queen’s mother, Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, was German so she grew up with the tradition. In 1848, the royal family decorated a tree in Windsor Castle. When the image was illustrated in the London News of the queen, who was very popular, and the family around the decorated tree, the trend was born even in the U.S. People couldn’t wait to follow the trend. By the 1890s, Americans had added their own touch: While European Christmas trees tended to be around 4-foot-tall, Americans liked trees that went from floor to ceiling.
Today, Christmas trees are not only in most every home, they are in stores, along streets, and range from small to several stories tall.