The Christmas tree is a common custom for most of us. There are many interesting connections to ancient traditions such as Egyptian and Roman customs, early Christian practices, and the Victorian era. However, most credit Germany as being the origin of the Christmas tree as we know it today.
The evergreen fir tree has traditionally been used to celebrate pagan and Christian winter festivals. Pagans used branches of it to decorate their homes during the winter solstice, because it made them think of the spring to come. The Romans used fir trees to decorate their temples at the festival of Saturnalia. Christians use it as a sign of everlasting life with God.
Germany is credited with starting the Christmas tree tradition as we now know it. In the 16th century devout Christians brought decorated trees into their homes. Some built Christmas pyramids of wood and decorated them with evergreens and candles if wood was scarce. The 16th-century Protestant reformer, Martin Luther is believed to be the first to add lighted candles to a tree. To recapture the brilliance of stars twinkling betwixt evergreens for his family, he erected a tree in the main room and wired its branches with lighted candles.
Most 19th-century Americans found Christmas trees an anomaly. The first record of one being on display was in the 1830s by the German settlers of Pennsylvania, although trees had been a tradition in many German homes much earlier. The Pennsylvania German settlements had community trees as early as 1747. But, as late as the 1840s Christmas trees were considered pagan symbols and not accepted by most Americans. In the mid-1800s, Christmas trees became popular in Great Britain when a drawing of Prince Albert and Queen Victoria with a Christmas tree in Windsor Castle was published. The tree was decorated with candles to represent stars. Afterwards, the Christmas tree became popular in Britain and America.
In the early 1900s, Americans decorated their trees with homemade ornaments and the German-Americans decorated with apples, nuts, and cookies. Popcorn was dyed bright colors and strung together with berries and nuts. Electricity made it possible for Christmas lights to replace candles and glow continuously. They began to appear in town squares and having a Christmas tree in the home became an American tradition.