Why We Decorate Christmas Trees for the Holidays

by Clayton Edwards
(Photo credit: Evgeniia Siiankovskaia via Getty Images)

The Christmas tree is the king of holiday decorations. That evergreen (or plastic tree, no judgment) covered in lights and shiny baubles are where all of the magic happens. Families make memories while decorating the tree. For kids, the tree watches over their brightly-wrapped Yuletide treasures.

Have you ever wondered why we decorate Christmas trees every year? Sure, it’s something that most of us have been doing since we were kids. But, where did the tradition start?

The First Christmas Trees

The tradition of the Christmas tree as we know it started in Germany in the sixteenth century, according to History. Many devout German Christians would cut down trees, bring them into their homes, and decorate them with apples, nuts, and cookies. Others would build pyramids out of wood and decorate them with evergreen boughs and candles.

German immigrants brought the tradition of the Christmas tree to America. The earliest record of a decorated indoor tree was in the 1830s in Pennsylvania. However, German communities erected outdoor community trees as early as the mid-1700s.

But, Why Do We Put Lights on the Tree?

That explains where the tradition started. However, it doesn’t explain why we string our Christmas trees with lights. That tradition started with Martin Luther, the man who led the Protestant Reformation in the 1500s. As the story goes, he was walking home one night just before Christmas. On his walk, Luther was awestruck by the stars over a stand of evergreen trees. The sight was so beautiful that he wanted to replicate it at home. He went home and attached lit candles to his tree. Before long, others followed suit.

Early American Resistance to Christmas Celebrations

Many current Christmas traditions took time to catch on in America. In colonial times, New England Puritans looked down on all forms of Christmas celebration. To them, Christmas trees were pagan symbols. In fact, they viewed everything but attending church for a Christmas Mass as a blasphemous “pagan mockery” of the holiest of holidays.

In 1659, the General Court of Massachusetts took their distaste of Christmas celebrations to an extreme. They passed a law forbidding any form of Christmas celebration outside of going to church. Those caught hanging decorations or erecting Christmas trees faced a fine.

In 1846, a sketch of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert appeared in the Illustrated London News. They were dressed in their finest attire standing beside a Christmas tree. Victoria adopted the tradition from Albert who was a German royal. After that, the tradition of having a tree exploded across Europe and America’s East Coast.

So, in short, Martin Luther came up with the idea to hang lights on the tree. Then, his fellow Germans brought that tradition to America. Finally, Queen Victoria made it acceptable to have and decorate a Christmas tree.