The Christmas Tree

The Christmas Tree is traced in Europe to antiquity and beyond. Fir branches, berries, fruits and nuts were common Solstice decorations among pre-Christian cultures in Europe. The use of evergreens was a reminder that spring would come soon and that winter was not forever.

The fir has carried religious significance since at least the festival of Saturnalia among the Romans, and it entered the Christian cosmology in Northern Europe during the 1500's as a symbol of the trinity and eternal life with God. Earlier cultures believed the evergreen bough was capable of warding off illness and evil.

German Lutherans attributed the origin of the Christmas tree to Martin Luther himself, describing a story in which the reformer was walking home at night, in the snow, under a cloudless, starry night. As he walked past a copse of evergreens, he caught sight of the sparkle of the stars through the trees, as though the light were dancing among the boughs.

Inspired by the biblical story of the star that led the Wise Men to Bethlehem and wanting to demonstrate the beauty he saw that night, Luther brought a pine tree into his home, decorating the branches with candles to replicate the scene.

Whether or not this story is true in whole or in part, the Lutheran community took up this tradition. Another telling posits the origin of the Christmas tree in the 11th century “Paradise trees” which were evergreens decorated with apples in religious plays that depicted the Tree of Knowledge in the story of Adam and Eve. Another contributor was a small pyramid-shaped wooden frame that was decorated with glass, tinsel and topped with a candle called the “Christmas Light.” The Christmas light symbolized Jesus as the light of the world. In this telling, it was together that these traditions melded into the Christmas Tree we know today.

Certainly by 1539 these traditions had evolved into a public ornamented and lighted tree at the Cathedral at Strassburg beginning in 1539.

Christmas trees in 1800’s America were usually created by German immigrants from the materials available to them of the day. Popcorn strings were an American addition, combined with traditional decor such as apples, nuts, cranberries, paper garlands, metal and, of course, candles.

By the 1920’s the Christmas Tree was firmly instilled in American symbology. President Coolage  lit the first National Christmas tree in 1923, a tradition that has continued to this day. Pressing the button himself to great fanfare, attendees saw a 48 foot fir tree become illuminated with the glow of more than 2000 electric lightbulbs, themselves a symbol of American progress. Rockefeller Center didn’t get into the public tree lighting game until, on a Crisp December day in 1931, a construction crew at work on the Center grounds collected funds amongst themselves to purchase and erect their own 20 foot tree. The Center made a tradition of it in 1933 and Rockefeller Center, along with its seasonal ice rink, have become a go-to location for residents of Manhattan and tourists alike.

In the 1950’s we saw the advent of the artificial tree, including those made of metal and tensile. This modernist, simple and refined tradition carries forward with the House of Pixen exclusive Silver tinsel Christmas Tree carries forward the midcentury modern design features such as simplicity, elegance, and a focus on a blend of modern manufacturing and human ingenuity.