Paperclips Magazine Christmas issue
Why do we have Christmas Trees?

The most popular sign, probably recognized almost everywhere that Christmas season is upon us is a Christmas Tree. Christmas Trees now come in different shapes, sizes and forms—from real Norwegian spruces to fake ones made of feathers, papier mâché, metal, glass and plastic that can be pulled out of the attic each year. But don’t you know that it took a long time for these trees to be associated with Christmas? Christmas Trees were seen as pagan symbols by the early Christians. So, the idea of putting up a Christmas Tree during the holiday was found to be unacceptable with one prominent Christian from the second century, Tertullian, being quoted as saying:

Let them over whom the fires of hell are imminent, affix to their posts, laurels doomed presently to burn: to them the testimonies of darkness and the omens of their penalties are suitable. You are a light of the world, and a tree ever green. If you have renounced temples, make not your own gate a temple.

Legend has it that it was the Protestant reformer Martin Luther who made Christmas Trees acceptable in the early Christian community, dating back to 1510 in Latvia and 1521 in Slovakia. While walking through the forest one night before Christmas, Luther saw the stars shining through the tree branches, reminding him of Jesus who left heaven to come to earth at Christmas. Since then, Christians began taking a more lenient approach to this cultural practice. However, the tale has a little historical basis.

Another most likely theory explaining the origin of Christmas Trees are the medieval plays. In the late Middle Ages, the dramas depicting biblical themes began to include imaginative performances dominated by laypeople. Part of a Christmas Eve celebration, for instance, was the play depicting the Garden of Eden, symbolized by a “paradise tree” hung with fruit. Because of becoming rowdy, these plays were banned in the 16th century. To compensate for the public celebration they could no longer enjoy, it was believed that people started to set up “paradise trees” in their homes, now become Christmas Trees.

Fir Trees

Just like the uncertainty of the historical account of Christmas Trees, nobody is also really sure as to what was the tree first used as Christmas Trees. Scholars assumed fir trees were the ones used since the Romans used this tree to decorate their temples at the festival of Saturnalia in the early days. Christians, on the other hand, use it as a sign of everlasting life with God. This practice probably began about 1000 years ago in Northern Europe. During that time, Christmas Trees are hang upside down from the ceiling using chains from chandeliers or lighting hooks.

Christmas Tree Lights

When a hospital in Chicago burned down because of candles on a Christmas Tree in 1885, an attempt was made by insurance companies to get a law made banning candles from being used on Christmas Trees because of the many fires they had caused. Still, many people, even up to this day, used candles to light Christmas Trees.

However, after another fire from Christmas Tree candles took place in New York in 1917, a teenager named Albert Sadacca whose family from Spain were making novelty wicker bird cages that lit up, thought of using the lights in long strings. He also suggested painting the bulbs bright colors like red and green. With his brilliant idea, he and his brothers formed the NOMA Electric Company, which became a very famous name for Christmas lights.

Colored Christmas Trees

During the Edwardian era, Christmas Trees made from colored ostrich feathers were popular at ‘fashionable’ parties. There was even a short fashion for white trees around 1900 that people had to use other trees for a substitute. So, colored and artificial trees are not so new after all but have only gained popularity in the early 20th century.