1. THE EARLY CHRISTIAN CHURCH DID NOT LIKE CHRISTMAS TREES.
Evergreen trees used to be seen as pagan symbols that had no place in a religious celebration. As far back as 1647, preacher Johann Conrad Dannhauer of the Strasbourg Cathedral criticized trees as “child’s play” that were getting more attention “than the word of God and the holy rites.” But as the tradition persisted, church leaders decided that if they couldn’t beat the decorated trees, they would adopt them as part of their own Christmas celebrations.
2. IN SOME HOMES, CHRISTMAS TREES WERE HUNG.
In southwest Germany during the 17th and 18th centuries, it was popular, particularly among the lower classes, to hang smaller trees from the ceiling or rafters. This allowed for a flashy display and kept the goodies in the tree out of the reach of children. Some families even hung the tree upside-down, since “pointing the root toward heaven was supposed to imbue the tree with divine powers,” according to Bernd Brunner, author of Inventing the Christmas Tree.
3. A PRINCE IS CREDITED WITH POPULARIZING CHRISTMAS TREES IN AMERICA.
Britain’s Prince Albert is credited with helping bring the Christmas tree from his native Germany to the English-speaking world, making it a well-publicized tradition in the royal household of his wife, Queen Victoria. Godey’s Lady’s Bookeditor Sarah Josepha Hale—one of the main advocates for a national Thanksgiving holiday—played an important role in promoting Christmas trees in the US when her magazine published an illustration of the British royal family with their tree in 1850. She edited out Victoria’s crown jewels, Albert’s mustache and sash, and any reference to the family's identity, transforming the picture from a piece of royal marketing to a paragon of middle-class, American, Christmas celebration.
4. THE FIRST CHRISTMAS TREE MARKET LAUNCHED IN 1851.
One thing slowing the adoption of Christmas trees was the burden most families faced of having to find and chop down their own trees. That began to change in 1851, when a logger from New York’s Catskill Mountains loaded dozens of fir and spruce trees from his land and hauled them down to New York City’s Washington Market. The harvested trees, ready to set in a living room and decorate, sold out fast and kicked off the practice of Christmas tree farms, which proliferated throughout the country.
5. CHRISTMAS TREES CAN BE EXTREMELY DANGEROUS.
From their earliest days, Christmas trees have been fire hazards. Before electric lights were introduced, many families set open candles on their trees to illuminate them, which meant that each Christmas morning, the newspapers included stories of homes going up in flames when the branches ignited. Even when families abandoned the obvious hazard of open flames on the trees, the conifers could still cause major trouble once they dried out. In Philadelphia in 1878, Christmas trees caused two fires on the same street, first when a gas jet ignited a tree in a brownstone, then later that day when a dressmaker’s in-store tree went up. Today, trees can still pose a hazard if they are allowed to dry out.
6. GIFTS USED TO GO IN THE TREE, NOT UNDER IT.
In its first decades in the US, Christmas trees held gifts in their branches more often than under them. Typical 19th-century reports describe a “monster Christmas tree despoiled of its pendent treasures of candy, dolls, and toys of all descriptions” and a “mammoth Christmas-tree whose branches hung heavy with Christmas toys and presents for the little ones”. Often these gifts included fruit, cakes, and candy that children would just pluck directly from the tree and enjoy.