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Where did the Tradition of the Christmas Tree Come from?

Niki Foster
Niki Foster
Niki Foster
Niki Foster

The tradition of using evergreen boughs, including holly and mistletoe, as decoration during winter celebrations is ancient. In the Middle East, trees were traditionally cut down, brought into the home, and decorated. Evergreens are a natural symbol of hope and the promise of renewed life in the spring during a time when most plants are barren in European climates. Today, the Christmas tree is the most famous and widely used legacy of this tradition that predates Christianity.

In the early days of the Christian church, and even up until the 19th century, the use of evergreen decorations and trees during Christmas was discouraged or prohibited because of its pagan associations. Although many other elements of pre-Christian winter holidays, such as the Roman Saturnalia, were retained in Christmas celebrations, evergreen decorations were commonly condemned. Ironically, some people now object to the public display of Christmas trees because of the Christian symbolism they have relatively recently come to represent.

A Christmas tree with presents.
A Christmas tree with presents.

The first incarnation of the Christmas tree, as we now know it, occurred in 16th century Germany, where it was used to celebrate a 24 December holiday called "The Feast of Adam and Eve." These trees were called "paradise trees" and were thought to be related to the Tree of Knowledge discussed in the book of Genesis. German immigrants brought the tree to America in the 17th century, and it became accepted as a Christmas decoration throughout the Western world only around 1850. President Franklin Pierce is credited with bringing the first one into the White House around this time, and President Calvin Coolidge founded the National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony, which takes place on the White House lawn, in 1923.

Christmas gifts under a tree.
Christmas gifts under a tree.

Decorating the tree is also a longstanding tradition. Although pagans at the time of the Roman Empire did not cut down trees and bring them into the home, they were known to decorate living trees with candles and metal decorations, some depicting the god Bacchus. Christmas trees have been decorated since their origin in the 16th century Europe, first with edible treats. Candles became popular sometime in the late 18th century, and they began to be replaced with electric lights around the turn of the 20th century. Blown glass ornaments first appeared as mainly Czech and Polish products around the end of the 19th century.

Christmas tree ornaments.
Christmas tree ornaments.

Today, the Christmas tree is enjoyed as a holiday decoration by people of many cultures and religions. To Christians, its promise of renewed life during a barren season symbolizes Christ's resurrection and promise of eternal life. Some people prefer the term "holiday tree," as it emphasizes the secular use of the decoration, although some Christians find this offensive.

Niki Foster
Niki Foster

In addition to her role as a WiseGEEK editor, Niki enjoys educating herself about interesting and unusual topics in order to get ideas for her own articles. She is a graduate of UCLA, where she majored in Linguistics and Anthropology.

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Niki Foster
Niki Foster

In addition to her role as a WiseGEEK editor, Niki enjoys educating herself about interesting and unusual topics in order to get ideas for her own articles. She is a graduate of UCLA, where she majored in Linguistics and Anthropology.

Learn more...

Discussion Comments


Like a lot of Christian symbolism, the Christmas Tree and the whole Santa tradition has been stolen from Pagan lore. There are no reindeer in the middle east and that fact alone shows where this tradition comes from.

In Siberia, the Shamans used a Psilocybin-containing mushroom called Amanita Muscaria as a sacrament. It is brightly coloured and found under evergreen trees and is used to 'travel' in the unseen realms.

Now I know all you Christians are saying your prayers and telling yourselves that it's evil and God hates idolatry and all the rest of it, but most of your rituals are pagan-based. Your churches have altars, your prayers are just 'spells' by another name. The difference is you have to believe what you're told by people who have a penchant for control.

The Bible should not be your only source of reference, although it's an interesting book. Above all, be the best person you can be. Love, care and compassion are not the property of any one religion. Merry Christmas.


@ZipLine: I am happy to tell you this is idolatry. And you do give service to that treea and your winter solstice celebrations wouldn't be the same without it. You are not celebrating the birth of Christ, so don't be deceived any longer. Christ was born three months before December.

The only significance of the actual date of Dec. 25 is that it was a Grecian massacre of Israelites for not presenting gifts to their false god on its birthday, and that is a memory etched in the minds of many also.

Your tree has nothing to do with the true God. Your beliefs and customs are based and founded in idolatry and paganism. So you can either let go and learn to conform to God's will or continue and receive what was due your forefathers who continued and taught you this custom.


When I was growing up in the Middle East, Christmas trees started becoming popular during New Years celebrations even though everyone is Muslim.

We actually don't call Christmas trees "Christmas trees" there. We call it "New Year tree." But it is so popular now. If you go to some Middle Eastern countries during New Years, you will see lighted Christmas trees everywhere.


@anon136117-- So are you saying that originally, Christmas trees were actually idols of the pagans?

That might have been the case but that has nothing to do with the Christmas tree we know and understand today. So I absolutely agree with you. Even though some people might link the Christmas tree to Christ, they're not worshiping it. It's just a symbol or a decoration.

I think it's more correct to think of the origin of Christmas trees as the first use of decorated trees in Germany during the holiday season.


I agree with what the article mentioned about the irony of Christmas trees. It's very funny how Christians disliked Christmas trees thinking it's a sign of paganism. Now, some non-Christians dislike Christmas trees because they see it as a sign of Christianity.

I don't really care where Christmas trees came from or what it meant to people before me. I like Christmas trees. It is embedded in my mind and memories as a part of the holiday season. I don't have any religious conceptions about the tree. I just enjoy Christmas tree decorations and how it looks in the dark. It really gives me joy, it lights up the neighborhood and the home.

I think the name of the tree makes it sound as if this is a religious symbol. I think for many people, it isn't.


Christians do not worship Christmas trees or any other trees. There is nothing wrong about enjoying God's creation, just because pagans worship nature as gods.

I suppose we shouldn't plant anything beautiful in our gardens and certainly not enjoy their beauty because, for instance, Hindus use flowers to adorn their idols.


In the book of Jeremiah 10, please read chap 9 and all of 10 to get the context of the scripture. It's not talking about trees being decorated. It's talking about wooden gods carved from trees and decorated with shiny things (beaten gold, silver, etc). The Israelites did this while Moses was on the mount receiving the 10 commandments. Gentiles did this and the Israelites follow them in practice (many times).

The scripture is asking how can people compare a wooden inanimate object to the Lord of Hosts. I don't care for the christmas traditions (trees) being mixed with celebrating the birth of Christ, however, Christians do not worship the tree.


The most high does not hate anything. Not an emotion possible of such an entity.


In the bible in the book of jeremiah 10, it speaks of trees being decorated and put on display as a form of religious worship! It's idolatry! It's pagan! It's idolatry! It's forbidden! It must be stopped or the punishment will be severe! The most high hates idolatry!


My parents live in Wooster, Ohio, an area with a strong German ancestry among its settlers. When we first moved there several years ago, we were told that some people actually claim that Wooster was the location of the first Christmas trees in the United States, or at least in Ohio. While I doubt it's true, I always loved how strongly people in that area feel about the Christmas tree tradition. There are many farms in the area where you can find farms of Christmas tree growers to get a fresh Christmas tree.


At my mother's church, they take the Christmas trees they use to decorate the church and strip off the limbs. Then they use them to make the cross to display during Easter.

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