WHITE ARTIFICIAL CHRISTMAS TREE
Almost every American child in the past 50 years has sung this favorite tribute to the Christmas tree, the symbol of the glories of the much anticipated celebration of Christmas. How fitting it is that the German word for Christmas tree (Tannenbaum - literally translated as fir tree) is known by all since the Christmas tree finds its earliest origins in Germany.
By legend, Saint Boniface, a 7th century monk from England, used the triangular shape of a fir tree as a symbol to teach Germans about the Holy Trinity. Those Saint Boniface converted in the modern German states of Hesse and Thuringia began revering the fir tree as a religious symbol.
A German fairy tale recites the story of a family living deep in the forest when one snowy winter night a young boy knocked on their door seeking refuge from the storm. The family kindly invited him in to escape the ravages of the winter storm, gave him dinner, dried his clothes and gave him a warm place to sleep. The next morning the family awoke to heavenly music and the young boy dressed in beautiful clothing. He told the family that he was the Christ Child and to show his appreciation for their kindness, he wanted to give them a gift for their Christmas celebration. He broke a twig from a fir tree and the twig became a lovely, decorated Christmas tree.
Glimpses of the modern Christmas tree are seen in European history mostly starting in the early 16th Century. Riga, Latvia claims to be the home of the first decorated Christmas tree (1510). In Bremen, historical records describe that a fir tree decorated with dates, nuts, applies, and paper flowers was used by a local trade guild as part of the Christmas celebration for the children of guild members. In Basel, in 1597 historical records say that tailor apprentices decorated a tree with apples and cheese and carried it through the town as part of the Christmas celebration. Legend has it that Martin Luther decorated a small fir tree with candles to teach his children how the stars shown through the dark night. In 1605, a traveler to Strasbourg wrote in his journal that "at Christmas, people in Strasbourg set up fir trees in their rooms with roses cut from multicolored paper, apples, cakes, tinsel, and sugar hanging from the branches."
Germans are probably responsible for the introduction of the Christmas tree tradition both in England and the United States. One of General Washington's great military feats during the Revolutionary War was his surprise attack on the Hessian soldiers at Trenton early in the morning of December 26, 1776. This early morning attack followed a traditional Christmas celebration by the Hessian soldiers which, most speculate, would have included a Christmas tree as part of the festivities. Other traditions describe how the Hessian soldiers brought the Christmas tree tradition to the American Colonies. The city of Windsor Locks, Connecticut claims to be the home of the first Christmas tree in America which was put up by a Hessian solder in 1777 while imprisoned in the Noden-Reed House.
While the Christmas tree tradition in America was beginning through the influence of early German immigrants, the British were similarly starting the same tradition through the influence of German merchants and Germany royalty. While the Christmas tree was introduced in England by King George III's German wife, it was not until Queen Victoria and her German husband, Prince Albert, celebrated Christmas with a decorated Christmas tree, that the tradition became established. In 1848, the Illustrated London News published an article on the Christmas tree at Windsor Castle which featured an illustration of the Royal Family surrounding a decorated Christmas tree. This soon became the fashionable standard for Christmas celebrations in England and America.
Over the past 150 years in America, the Christmas tree has become a central fixture of all Christmas celebrations. Decoration trends have come and gone (candles, lights, beads, tinsel, flocked trees, color-lighted aluminum trees and more), the Christmas tree has remained as a traditional symbol of public and family Christmas celebrations.