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History of Christmas Tree Decorating
Beautiful Christmas Trees
A Festive Christmas Tree
History of Decorating Christmas Trees
The decorating of Christmas trees goes back to when they were first in use as Christmas trees in the 16th century. It was Christians who first brought Christmas trees with decorations on them, into their home. They could be adorned with many different kinds of things, and candles were a big part of the décor as well.
It wasn't long of course, until more places in Europe started in with the same tradition. In many different cultures as well, you would find Christmas trees being used. In each place, the decorations were sure to be more reflective of that particular culture or family. Much depended also, I am sure, on what could be afforded.
The Christmas tree of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert for example, would look very different from a smaller tree that a poor family would be able to acquire. Never have people seemed to be at a loss however, to decorate a Christmas tree with something that makes it stand apart from a tree in its natural setting.
Prince Albert, for example went all out in his decorating for Queen Victoria, and used everything from candles, gingerbread and sweets and different fruits. This was back in 1841. Some of my own most favorite memories of happy and fun Christmas ornaments were the "sweets" that looked to be covered in sparkly sugar and hanging from the tree. There just is something so festive about those kinds of ornaments. It is interesting to see what we hold onto, and what many forego. We never used candles and it is not recommended to do so for obvious reasons now. Many do use ornaments that look like lit candles however, but they are without a real flame.
We see more decorations being used for Christmas trees, for instance Charles Dickens mentions some different ideas. People were putting little dolls, and their miniature furniture in trees, as well as other miniatures like musical instruments. He mentioned also, costume jewelry, toy swords and guns, and fruit and candy as well. This was back in 1850. I have seen many people use and buy different ornaments today as well, that reflect these older fashioned traditions.
In the 19th century, supposedly there was a Christmas tree on display for the first time in Pennsylvania. This was kind of odd to many Americans of that day and some saw it to be a bit too pagan for their liking. This tree was on display in the 1830's, and was used more as a fund raiser of sorts for the local church. Some people were outright angry about this tree, which I find to be unfortunate, and they asked the minister to do what he could to get it taken down. The thing to do would have been to point out to people that they were not using a Christmas tree for pagan purposes at all. There is no harm in that. It depends on what the meaning is to you, not what it used to mean to certain people. That hatred of Christmas trees did not last long (except for a few), and their popularity continued to grow.
In the United States market, Christmas ornaments started to make more of a hit. It had long been popular in Germany, but by the 1890's, people were seeing more and more ornaments and decorations available for purchase.
One interesting thing to note, was that Europeans liked smaller trees, maybe four feet tall or so. American's seemed to want larger and larger trees, some wanted as big as they could get! We still love huge Christmas trees now, and depending on the size, you can imagine the job it is to decorate one. Thus, the Europeans had an easier job decorating in this regard, which I think is kind of smart of them. I cannot deny however, my love of huge Christmas trees. They seem to be just magical.
Earlier 20th Century
Early on in the twentieth century in America, people were making use of homemade ornaments. They seemed to really enjoy making and using homemade decorations. It was the German Americans that held to their traditions of using apples, marzipan cookies and all kinds of nuts. Popcorn came into popularity as well. One can imagine with the darker fruits and nuts, that the light strand of popcorn brought a brightness to things for sure on the trees.
Electricity and its Impact on Christmas Tree Decoration
As we all can imagine, electricity brought so much to Christmas tree decoration! Even after dark, the tree can remain lit. When I think back to my childhood, and think of Christmas, there is some deep and happy thoughts that come flooding back. I remember at the end of a long day, towards the end of an evening, maybe watching some television with my family, having the warm colorful lights just beaming from our tree. To a child, that is simply wonderful. Imagine so long ago, how much more so.
In the 1900s one could observe more and more people utilizing Christmas trees, and using the lights to make them just shine and sparkle. Remember the long tinsel pieces? Those were so fun as well, even though a mess sometimes. Their reflective quality brought so much glimmer to a tree.
Early on, another tradition that many used were horns and bells in their decorating. The idea there for some, was to frighten evil spirits away. There also was use of angels and fairies which supposedly brought good luck to people. I find it interesting to see what carries over longer term, now that we are in the 21st century. Angels are still a huge deal in our Christmas decorations for many people, for instance. Think of what is on top of many Christmas trees? Decorations around homes also have many angels as well.
Other Decorations From other Parts of the World
Along with angels, one could find beautiful birds like peacocks to be among the decorations of a Christmas tree. Some say this tradition came from Poland, and I find that fascinating. I recall some very beautiful bird decorations as a child. They were gorgeous. We got a similar beautiful bird for our Christmas tree a few years back.
So there was an increase of birds and stars at one point, something we still see a lot of today. Painted wooden decorations came into popularity. You could find beautifully painted wooden animals and little children as well. These were especially popular in Sweden and that tradition carried over to the United States as well.
In Denmark, they enjoyed mobiles of bells and stars, or snowflakes. You could find small hearts hanging on their trees. In Japan, one could find tiny fans and paper lamps hanging from trees. Some had bird cages and stars or different shapes on the trees of Lithuania. Beautifully painted egg shells were displayed on Czechoslovakian trees. You might see any number of things that lent to the idea of wishing for good crops in the coming year.
I thought one story I came across to be particularly interesting. In the Ukraine, it was thought to bring good luck to have a spider and web used in the tree. I don't believe they were real, but I could be mistaken! The idea was based on an old folktale, where a woman awoke one Christmas morning to find that her Christmas tree branches had been wrapped in spider's web. With the rising of the sun, it all had turned to silver with the sunlight.
It is kind of heartwarming to consider my own memories of our family's Christmas tree decorating, then to think of children across the world and their experiences too with a Christmas tree.
Christmas Tree Decorating Poll
Do you decorate a Christmas Tree at Christmas time?
© 2012 Paula