As the holiday season approaches, many people celebrate by buying and decorating a Christmas tree. Many great memories are formed by the twinkling lights and colorful ornaments. Add in some presents under the tree and it's no wonder that kids are spellbound by the sight of the Christmas tree.
But just how did this tradition get started? If you think about it, isn't it a bit strange to go out into the woods, chop down a tree, drag it inside, and then place ornamental balls and lights all over it? Who first thought up this idea?
No one knows for sure who first decorated a Christmas tree. Even though Christmas trees are now closely associated with the Christian holiday of Christmas, evergreen trees held special meaning for ancient peoples long before Christianity developed.
In the Northern Hemisphere, the winter solstice marks the shortest day and longest night of the year. It usually occurs on December 21 or 22 each year. Ancient peoples have long celebrated the winter solstice, as its arrival meant that spring would soon be on its way. Decorating with evergreen trees and boughs reminded people of the green to come in the spring.
For example, Ancient Romans celebrated the winter solstice with a feast called the Saturnalia. They honored Saturn, the god of agriculture. The Romans believed that Saturn would soon bring back green plants after the passing of the winter solstice. As part of the feast, they would decorate their homes with evergreen boughs.
Historians believe the modern practice of decorating trees indoors to celebrate the holiday of Christmas began in Germany in the 16th century. Many people believe the first person to add lights to a Christmas tree in the form of candles was the famous Protestant reformer, Martin Luther.
According to legend, Luther was walking home through the woods one evening, when he noticed the beauty of the bright stars in the sky shining through the tree branches above him. They reminded him of Jesus, who is known as the Light of the World in the Christian Bible. Luther then added candles to a Christmas tree at home to recreate the scene for his family.
Historians note that the Christmas tree wasn't incorporated by most Americans until the late 19th century. Before that time, Christmas trees had been brought to America by immigrants, yet many people viewed them as pagan symbols. Over time, however, they became a popular symbol of the Christmas season.
Today, the United States celebrates each Christmas season by lighting the National Christmas Tree on an area of the White House lawn known as the Ellipse. This tradition began in 1923 under President Calvin Coolidge.
Christmas trees are also big business. Christmas trees are grown in all 50 states, including Alaska and Hawaii. The Christmas tree industry employs over 100,000 people who plant over 75 million Christmas trees every year on over one million acres of land. The most popular varieties are Scotch Pine, Douglas Fir, Fraser Fir, Balsam Fir, and White Pine.