ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

The Origins Of Christmas Trees And Their Decorations Part III

Updated on November 14, 2012
German Christmas Pyramid
German Christmas Pyramid
Victorian Christmas Tree
Victorian Christmas Tree

The Christmas Tree And The Church

When it comes to Christmas, the Church has done its best to make sure Christ or at least God played some sort of role. This extends to the shaping of what we now consider Christmas Tree traditions.

The Middle Ages

The Church was not without its own influence in the popularity of the tree and its creation or reinvention. During the Middle Ages, the tree was incorporated into the cycles of Medieval Mystery and Morality plays. A main prop in a play about Adam and Eve was a fir tree hung with apples. Referred to as the "Paradise tree," it symbolized the Garden of Eden. German families set up a Paradise tree in their homes on December 24, the feast day of Adam and Eve. Wafers, symbolizing the bread distributed at communion, hung upon its branches. Because of the proximity of Christmas, candles representing Christ as the light of the world often appeared on the tree. Eventually, cookies and other sweets replaced the wafers. In Ireland, candles were coloured, each district having its own particular preference. Candles not only lit up trees, but were placed in the window. This was also done in England.

The Paradise tree was taking on a life of its own. The church became upset with the focus on a tree and not on the Christ child. In the 1640s, for example, Johann Konrad Dannahauer (1603-1666), an Orthodox Lutheran theologian wrote: “Among other trifles which are set up during Christmas time instead of God’s word is the Christmas tree or fir tree which is put up at home and decorated with dolls and sugars.”

John Calvin (1509-1564) had previously acted to condemn the tree. In the 16th century, he felt both Christmas and Easter were too frivolous. The Germans generally ignored his feelings on this subject, but England’s Puritans, influenced by his writings, forbade the celebration of Christmas.

In the same room as the tree, Germans kept a Christmas pyramid made of wood, with shelves to hold figurines. The pyramid sported decorations of evergreens, candles and a star. By the 16th century, the pyramid and the Paradise tree had merged, becoming the Christmas tree so popular today.

The Advance Of The Christmas Tree

As the decades passed, the decorations on trees reflected an aesthetic, and not always a religious belief. In the 18th century, trees became a delightful confection of sweets, but gold-leaf-covered apples and gilded fruits and nuts also hung from the branches. In 1755, Berliners selected gilded potatoes to decorate their trees, but, usually, the ornaments were edible ones - candies, cookies. This resulted in the nickname “sugar tree.” The popularity only grew when the painting featuring Martin Luther was reproduced everywhere.

The tree tradition soon spread into Austria, set up in 1816 in the Royal court of Princess Henriette in Vienna. It soon spread to Finland, Denmark and Norway (1830), Sweden (1863) and Bohemia (1862). Usually, the tree appeared with the arrival of Germans - soldiers, settlers and royal spouses. Although England was slow to accept it, the support of Victoria and Albert ensured its spread.

The Christmas Tree In England

The Christmas tree came to England with its German citizens. German merchants in Manchester had Christmas trees as early as 1822. In 1829, a German Princess living in London, Princess Lieven, held a holiday party for her children. It included a large tree decorated with multi-coloured candles. The Royal family, German by descent and temperament, had set up trees for Christmas throughout their reign. This included Queen Charlotte’s Court in 1836. The tree was not common, however, among the British until the reign of Queen Victoria. It was Prince Albert, her German husband, who popularized the tree in England. Traditionally, if falsely, Albert is said to have provided the Royal family with its first tree in 1846. English society never looked back.

These trees had elaborate decorations including candles, candies, paper chains, and fancy cakes hung from the branches on ribbons. In England, and elsewhere, these sweets were not simply ornaments, but the gifts themselves. In Victorian England, many children “opened” their gifts of marzipan, cookies and exotic fruits (oranges, tangerines), and toys, by denuding the tree.


While the church adopted and used the Christmas tree for its own purposes, secular interests soon took over. The Christmas Tree grew from a religious (both Pagan and Christian) icon to become a world-wide symbol of the festival of Christmas. Part IV will look at the Christmas tree in the New World as well as the changes in ornaments and the tree itself.


Aswynn, Freya Northern Mysteries. (St. Paul, MN, 1990).

Buchanan, R.H “Calendar Customs.” Ulster Folklore. 8 (1962).

Campanelli, P. Pagan Rites of Passage. (St. Paul, MN., 1998).

Wheel of the Year. (St. Paul, MN, 1989).

Durie, William. “Tree and Plant Lore.” The Celtic Magazine. 11 (1886).

Fowler, W. The Roman Festivals in the Time of the Republic. (London, 1899).

Krythe, Maymie, R. All About Christmas (New York, 1954).

Matthews, J. The Winter Solstice: The Sacred Traditions of Christmas. (Wheaton, Il., 1998)

Miles, Clement A. Christmas Customs and Traditions: Their History and Significance (New York, [1912] 1978).

Muir, Frank Christmas Customs and Traditions (New York, 1975).

Slade, Paddy. Encyclopedia of White Magic. (New York, 1990).

Snyder, Phillip V. The Christmas Tree Book. (New York, 1976).


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)