Santa's Whiskers


Actually selecting a tree and decorating it for the Christmas season is a relatively recent holiday activity and has much of its origin in Europe. 

​The first decorated Christmas tree appears to have been in Riga, Latvia, in 1510. And the first printed reference to Christmas trees appeared in Germany in 1531. (

Evergreens were used first in church plays at Christmas time and were decorated with apples to symbolize a Paradise tree. The Paradise tree later found its way into homes where they were often also adorned with small white wafers, and later, small pastries cut into stars, angels, hearts and flowers. The custom slowly spread throughout Germany and Europe. (

During the middle of the 1500's small candles were introduced to light Christmas trees. In fact, it is widely held that Martin Luther, the 16th century Protestant reformer, first added lighted candles to a tree. Walking toward his home one winter evening, composing a sermon, he was awed by the brilliance of stars twinkling amidst evergreens. To recapture the scene for his family, he erected a tree in the main room and wired its branches with lighted candles. (

By 1605 the first documented Christmas tree had been publicly erected in Stralsburg. It was decorated with bright red applies. In 1611 the first Christmas tree as we know it was documented as standing in the Manor of the Dutch Dorothea Sybille of Schlesien in Breslau. Apples, gilded nuts, sugar sweets and small toys were the common decorations during this time period. (

The idea of decorating Christmas trees for the home was brought to America by Hessians, German mercenaries, fighting in the Revolutionary War. (

But decorated trees did not become widely popular until people saw the ornaments brought to America by families emigrating from Germany and England in the 1840's. (

That would change. A woodcut of the British Royal family with their Christmas tree at Windsor Castle, initially published in The Illustrated London News, December 1848, was copied in the U.S. at Christmas 1850 in Godey's Lady's Book. Godey's copied it exactly, except for the removal of the Queen's tiara and Prince Albert's mustache, to remake the engraving into an American scene. The republished Godey's image became the first widely circulated picture of a decorated evergreen Christmas tree in America. The image was reprinted in 1860, and by the 1870's putting up a Christmas tree had become common in America. (

Ornaments became a big hit. F.W. Woolworth of five-and-dime fame had reluctantly stocked his stores with German made ornaments in 1880. By 1890 he was selling $25 million worth of ornaments at nickel and dime prices. (

​The progression from candles to electric tree lights came in 1882 when Thomas Edison's assistant, Edward Johnson, came up with the idea, but Christmas tree lights were not mass-produced until 1890. (