You think Santa Claus and decorated trees when you think Christmas, right? The Jolly One probably comes first as the number one symbol of the holiday, but there’s no mistaking that Christmas trees are nearly just as important when it comes to celebrating the holiday right.
Santa Claus and Christmas trees are so intertwined, so connected, in how we celebrate, it makes one think that Santa maybe even invented the Christmas tree. After all, it’s Santa who places everyone’s presents underneath the tree. Maybe back in the old days, before trees, he used to place presents under children’s beds and in the bathtub. And maybe eventually he got tired of it, and instead invented Christmas trees as a convenient and fun place for him to leave presents. Makes sense, right?
Maybe, but Santa had little to do with the real reason that Christmas trees came about. Sorry to disappoint you folks, but it was actually German Christians who started the Christmas tree celebration, way back in the 1500s. And as for decorating these trees, the story goes that one of the top Christians of them all, Martin Luther, started decorating his family’s tree in the 1500s with lit candles. He got the idea one night walking home under the stars.
Then the idea really caught on in the mid-1800s, when the Queen of England and her children started decorating a tree for Christmas. Sketches of the royal family with their decorations got put in all the major newspapers, and soon every good Englishman was starting a new family tradition: decorating their house and home with colorful decorations and freshly smelling, beautifully green evergreen trees.
In America, however, we were a little bit slow, not just with decorating Christmas trees but with celebrating Santa Claus and anything else ‘extra’ in their Christmas festivities. That’s because up until the very end of the 1800s, Americans saw Christmas as a very religious holiday. There was no room for chubby men in red suits, or bright decorations and candles, and even a Christmas tree. All Americans did back then was go to church service. Period.
But then the Queen of England enjoyed her Christmas tree. And many immigrants to the United States, especially the German ones, celebrated December 25 with trees, lights, and holiday cheer. Eventually, the fun caught on. In true American fashion, though, Americans not only took on the tradition of Christmas trees and decorations, they improved on it. Every thing had to be bigger, better, and more festive!
For example, at the turn of the 20th century, Europeans tended to like their trees manageable, at only about the height of your typical sixth grader. But when Americans started catching on to the tree tradition, they decided they liked their trees big, so big that they touched the ceiling of their homes.
Then Americans took it one step further with the invention of electricity in homes. Trees were braided with strings of multicolored lights. Homes were covered with decorations of every color, blinking lights, and Santa Claus statues with his sleigh of reindeer. Even towns and cities started setting up Santa Claus displays around Town Hall, as well as Christmas trees that reached to the sky.