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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Community Comment

Origins of the Christmas Tree

The origin of the Christmas tree is much disputed.  Our modern Christmas tree evolved from early traditions of the Egyptians, Romans and Druids.  

They all used decorated trees in winter celebrations long before the advent of Christianity.  The Egyptians brought green date palm leaves into their homes at the winter solstice to symbolize life's triumph over death.

The Romans decorated their houses with greens and candles, and exchanged gifts at the feast of Saturnalia during the winter solstice.  Druids, who viewed evergreens as sacred, used them during their mysterious solstice rituals.

Late in the Middle Ages, Germans and Scandinavians placed evergreen trees inside their homes or just outside their doors to express hope for the coming spring.  

Our modern Christmas tree celebrating Christian traditions probably started about 400 years ago in Germany. Most historians trace the lighted Christmas tree to Martin Luther. He attached lighted candles to a small evergreen tree, trying to simulate the reflections of the starlit heaven -- the heaven that looked down over Bethlehem on the first Christmas Eve.

The Christmas tree tradition most likely came to the United States with Hessian troops during the American Revolution, or with German immigrants moving into Pennsylvania and Ohio. The Christmas tree market was born in 1851 when Catskill farmer Mark Carr hauled two ox sleds of evergreens into New York City and sold them all.

By 1900, one in five American families had a Christmas tree, and 20 years later, the custom was nearly universal.

Spokesman-Review readers blog about news and issues in Spokane written by Dave Laird.