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Origin and Tradition of the American Christmas Tree

Updated on December 31, 2017
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Cleo Addams is the author of the YA science fiction novel, "Salvage." She loves to write and contributes to HubPages in her free time.

Christmas Tree with Ornaments
Christmas Tree with Ornaments | Source

The tradition of the Christmas tree is believed to have started in Germany in the 16th century when Christians would bring trees into their homes and decorate them during the Holiday season.

Surprisingly, this tradition did not catch on in America until the mid 1800’s as most Christians in America viewed the Christmas tree and decorations as Pagan symbols. The shift in view was due largely to Queen Victoria having a portrait of her family gathered around a Christmas tree printed in the newspaper, London News. This was seen by many as a fashion statement and the tradition was adopted by American society shortly thereafter.

Ornaments and Tree Toppers

American Christmas trees in the 19th century were large, stretching from floor to ceiling, and decorated with various styles of handmade ornaments, multicolored popcorn on string, and candles (which were later replaced with string lights when electricity was introduced). The size of the trees and choice for ornaments has not changed much since then with the exception of many ornaments being mass produced in factories (vs handmade) and manufactured from plastic versus the traditional wood, glass or ceramic.

Christmas tree toppers in early America consisted of three favorites: the angel, the star, and the finial. These favorites remain the same today, except the latter of the three is the used the least. The angel topper represents the angels in the Biblical story of the first Christmas and the star topper represents the Star of Bethlehem.

Real vs Artificial Trees

Currently the most popular tree used for Christmas trees in America is the Douglas fir. The fir tree is an evergreen that belongs to the conifer species. (Other popular conifers are pine and spruce.) However, artificial trees now largely outweigh the use of real trees. According to the American Christmas Tree Association, 81% of trees displayed in 2017 will be artificial.

Post-War NOMA plastic, electrified angel tree-topper
Post-War NOMA plastic, electrified angel tree-topper | Source

When to Decorate

Throughout the years, Americans have had mixed opinions about when the ‘proper’ day to erect a Christmas tree and decorate your home for Christmas is. Most agree that decorating before Thanksgiving is too early, and that the Friday after Thanksgiving (also known as Black Friday in America) is the earliest that one should do so.

Many Americans take down their Christmas tree the first week in the New Year, but some leave them up until the end of January.

The Most Iconic Tree

The most iconic Christmas tree in America is the tree at Rockefeller Center in Midtown Manhattan, New York City, New York. The Rockefeller Christmas Tree has been a national tradition since 1933. Every year the tree is lit in a public ceremony and is visited by more than 125 million people. Traditionally, the tree is usually donated for the ceremony and the lumber donated when it's removed from display.

In Conclusion

The history of the Christmas tree in America is relatively short when compared to other countries; however, it is a part of Christmas decor that was celebrated by 76 percent of the country in 2017.

4 Easy Christmas Ornaments


  • Wikipedia, Evergreen,, Accessed 12/22/17
  • History, History of Christmas Trees,, Accessed, 12/22/17
  • Wikipedia, Christmas tree,, Accessed 12/22/17
  • American Christmas Tree Association (ACTA), 95 Million U.S. Households Love Their Christmas Trees,, Accessed 12/22/17
  • Wikipedia, Star of Bethlehem,, Accessed 12/26/17
  • Wikipedia, Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree,, Accessed 12/26/17

© 2017 Cleo Addams


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