The Christmas Tree

The Christmas tree, which is an evergreen with it's boughs stretched toward heaven, reminds us of the everlasting life that Christ came to bring sinners. The candles or lights on the tree remind us that Jesus is the light of the world.

Christmas trees have not always been decorated. In the early 700s, Germany celebrated Christmas by planting fir saplings. This is said to have started when a British monk and missionary, St. Boniface, was preaching a sermon on the Nativity to a tribe of Germanic Druids outside the town of Geismar. The Druids evidently believed that the trees were sacred so to prove to them otherwise, St. Boniface cut one down on the spot. When it fell, it crushed every shrub in its path except for one small fir sapling. Legend has it that Boniface interpreted the fir's survival as a miracle, concluding, "Let this be called the tree of the Christ Child."

The history of the modern Christmas tree goes back to 16th century Germany.  They decorated them with paper roses, apples, wafers, gilt, and sugar. In medieval religious plays, the Paradise tree hung with apples. The decorations could symbolize the Christian hosts.

In the 17th century, the Christmas tree spread through Germany and Scandinavia. Eventually the tree was extensively decorated, first with candles and candies, then with apples and confections.

It is believed that Martin Luther was the first to add candles to a tree.  As he walked home one winter evening, composing a sermon, he was awed by the brilliance of stars twinkling amidst evergreens. To recapture the scene for his family, he erected a tree in the main room and wired its branches with lighted candles.

In England the tradition was made popular by the German Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria. The German immigrants brought the Christmas tree to America in 17th century. Public outdoor Christmas trees with electric candles were introduced in Finland in 1906, and in USA (New York) in 1912.

The first mention of the Christmas tree in America was in 1821, recorded in the diary of Matthew Zahm of Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  By 1901, commercial Christmas tree farming had even began growing trees, then cutting them down and selling them for Christmas.