The History of the Christmas Tree

The custom of the Christmas tree began in Germany, and can be traced back to the 16th Century. Devout Christians brought trees into their homes and decorated them with fruits, nuts and other foods. Martin Luther, the 16th Century Protestant reformer, began the tradition of adding candles to illuminate the trees. While walking home one winter night, he was struck by the beauty of the stars in the sky twinkling through the trees. He set up an evergreen in his home and attached candles to the branches to recreate this scene. Although tree skirts are now used for decorative purposes, years ago they were placed on the floor below the tree to collect the wax drippings from the candles.

When the Puritans arrived in America, Christmas was sacred. Governor William Bradford penalized those who decorated trees and otherwise desecrated that “sacred event.” Later, the General Court of Massachusetts enacted a law making any observance of Christmas, other than church services, a penal offense. That all changed in the 19th century when immigrants from Germany and Ireland came to America with their Christmas ornaments and the popularity of the Christmas tree began to grow.

Americans now spend over $1.5 billion dollars on Christmas trees. The most popular trees are the Douglas, Balsam and Fraser firs, and are mostly now grown commercially on tree farms.

The lighting of the Rockefeller Plaza Christmas tree symbolizes the beginning of the holiday season in New York City. Thousands of people will flock to the plaza to view the tree lighting and millions of people around the world will watch it live on television. More than half a million people pass the tree every day, making Rockefeller Center the city’s center for holiday celebrations. For more information about the Rockefeller Plaza tree lighting, go to