Some Christmas traditions don't seem strange to us because they are so familiar. In the previous post 8 Truly Strange Christmas Customs, the Christmas tree did not appear, although the act of bringing a tree inside and covering it with toys and candy is quite strange. After all, didn't we move inside to get away from the trees?
Christmas Tree History
Bringing evergreens into the house is a tradition that goes back to ancient times. In the Middle Ages, trees were decorated with apples to illustrate the story of Adam and Eve. Legends say illuminated Christmas trees began with Martin Luther, although there is evidence of earlier lighted trees. The first decorated holiday tree was recorded in 1510 in Riga, Latvia, to celebrate the new year. Image credit: Patricia LTD, Riga.
Candle Lighted Trees
Before Thomas Edison introduced electric tree lights at a neighbor's home in 1882, Christmas trees were lighted by candles. I had to decide whether to describe these as "lighted" trees or "lit" trees, and decided that the word "lit" implied a tree on fire, which many eventually were. Candles were either clipped to tree branches or stabilized by counterweights, which could be painted like ornaments.
Continue reading for more relatively contemporary Christmas tree fashions.
The first artificial Christmas trees were made of feathers! They originated in Germany in the 1840s due to deforestation. They were mostly made of goose feathers, with turkey, ostrich, and swan feather trees also available. German immigrants brought their trees to America, where they became somewhat popular, but cut Christmas trees remained the overwhelming choice until synthetic materials became affordable after World War II.
From Sputnik to Apollo, the hippest Christmas tree for the Space Age was aluminum. In 1959, the Aluminum Specialty Company introduced the shiny all-metal Christmas tree to the public, and sales took off for the next decade or so. Other colors became available, since a pink or gold tree was just as acceptable as a silver colored tree. These "permanent" trees (the term "artificial" was only used later) had to be lit externally, since the metal was too dangerous for wired lights. The Color Wheel was a lamp with a rotating disc over the light that shone different colors onto your tree. Groovy! The decline in aluminum tree sales is attributed to Charlie Brown, who lamented the commercialism of Christmas (and mentioned aluminum trees) in the 1965 special A Charlie Brown Christmas. Today, you can see aluminum trees at, and purchase them from ATOM, the Aluminum Tree and Ornament Museum. Image by Flickr user NCreedplayer.
Upside-down Christmas Trees
First seen in 2005, the upside-down tree has some advantages over a normal tree. The ornaments hang off the tree instead of into it, the better to be seen. Gifts piled underneath are not obscured by branches. You don't need to reserve as much floor space as you would for traditional tree. And if it is hung from the ceiling, it can be put out of reach of children and pets. Upside-down tree advocates will remind you that some Christmas trees were hung upside down in the Middle Ages. However, this style is both difficult and weird. The tree shown is sold out at Hammacher Schlemmer.
At some point, most people wonder how environmentally-friendly the Christmas tree custom is. Many people switched over to artificial trees in the 70s and 80s to save cutting a tree every year. This made sense in the days when wild trees were cut for Christmas, but in the 21st century around 98% of real trees are grown on farms for Christmas use. Most artificial trees are made of plastic, use resources in their manufacture, and are discarded in landfills. The best advice is to use your existing artificial tree as long as possible, then don't replace it. Living trees can be planted after the holidays, but you need to take care to select a proper place for planting, dig a hole before the ground freezes, and keep it alive while in use. Discarded cut trees can and should be properly recycled. Cut trees can be made into mulch or compost, or used in lakes as fish hatcheries.
The current trend in Christmas trees seems to be artificial lighted trees set outdoors! It's a full turnaround from bringing real trees inside. Image by Flickr user kpishdadi.