The lovely evergreens have begun their seasonal show and it is always impressive that they chose winter, as the world is encased in frosty slumber, to appear their finest. Bearing fruit or berries despite the cold of winter, they have always been considered quite remarkable and were an important aspect of ancient pagan rituals.
The Romans considered evergreens symbols of fertility and used them to trim their homes for the New Year while northern Europeans hung them over doors to ward off evil spirits that were believed to stalk the winter landscape. German and Scandinavian people had long made evergreen wreaths to celebrate the Winter Solstice and over time were included in their celebrations of the birth of Jesus.
It is said that Martin Luther began the German tradition of decorating trees. In about 1500 as he was walking through a snow covered forest, he was struck by the beauty of dusted evergreens shimmering in the moonlight. So enamored was he by the natural beauty that he placed a tree inside for his children, decorated with lit candles symbolizing the starry sky and honoring Christ's birth. Following this tradition, the church began to include a tree for Christmas and by the mid-1600’s it was decorated with apples to symbolize Adam and Eve's expulsion from Eden.
About this time German Christians began bringing trees into their homes and soon they began to decorate them. Their tradition arrived with Hessian immigrants to the colonies and overcame the austere (and unpopular) Puritan belief that ‘all work and no play’ included banning Christmas celebrations.
In 1832 Charles Follen, a German immigrant and professor at Harvard, decorated the first American Christmas tree to share with his family and friends. And in 1846, a young German Prince Albert presented his new bride Victoria with her first tree and thus the English Victorian Christmas was born. Word of decorated Christmas trees spread rapidly and was embraced by almost all Christian cultures; it remains today a universal symbol of the holiday season.