The Christmas Tree

written on 24/12/2020
by Jutta Thielen-del Pozo

The tradition of the Christmas tree at the heart of our Christmas celebration started in Germany in the 16th century and has since conquered the world.

One of the earliest written references to a tree decorated for Christmas dates back to 1527 in a document in Mainz where the “weiennacht baum” is mentioned.

The tree was brought into the homes and decorated with colourful paper, apples and sweets.

However, it was only in the 18th century that the custom became widespread.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe is one of the first writers to mention the Christmas tree in German literature in his famous book “Young Werther”.

From Germany, the custom of the Christmas tree spread within Europe and to America at the beginning of the 19th century when immigrants landed at the East coast.

It is not clearly documented when candles were used to light up the tree.

One story is that it was Martin Luther who walked at night and thought that the stars in the sky were so beautiful and a sign of divinity, that he went home and added candles to the Christmas tree as a symbol of the star leading the three wise men to Bethlehem.

Before the 19th century, when dedicated markets for Christmas trees did not exist, simple branches or a wooden structure sometimes replaced the tree, but Christmas trees gradually turned into a business.

Today the decorated tree has become one of the most prominent symbols of Christmas and in Germany alone, between 23 und 26 Million Christmas trees decorate our houses each year. 

Most of them originate from Germany and only 5% are imported. It is estimated that around 15 000 people make a full time or part time living with the trade.

The tradition is not unchallenged – should we really cut down trees to use for a single occasion? Is it ecologically friendly?

Most Christmas trees stem from plantations, and over the years, awareness of ecologically sound practices has grown. 

Those who perhaps still wonder whether a reusable plastic tree would be better for the climate can be reassured: according to the German science magazine “Quarks”, a plastic tree produces 16 times more CO2 than a natural tree! 

By the way, trees can also be bought in a pot and later planted or reused: in our family we have now been celebrating Christmas with the same tree for 10 years!

But it will be its last - it literally outgrew the house and will get a special place in the garden to take root and spread its branches.

So, let’s enjoy our trees, the smell of pine they bring into our houses and their soft light during the long, dark days.

The Christmas tree is a symbol of hope that the darker days will soon be over, a thought that - in particular during Corona - is comforting.