Decorating with evergreen during the Winter Solstice can be traced back thousands of years. Ancient astronomers knew the pattern of the solstices and equinoxes, and their religions often coincided with their observations. Some thought their sun god was sick and evergreen decorations were to celebrate the healing they knew was to come as the days became longer. Ancient Egyptians decorated to Ra, for the lengthening of days was a testament to life after death. Romans did it because Saturn, the god of agriculture, was going to be back to give them bountiful crops. The Druids celebrated the evergreen tree itself because it was a symbol of everlasting life. Not all of these people used actual trees. Some used boughs, hung over their doors, to keep evil spirits at bay, much like the origins of the jack o lantern.
The Christmas Tree first came into the Christmas tradition in 16th century Germany. These were smaller trees, only a few feet tall, and it wasn’t long before people started decorating them with apples, nuts and candles, wired to the branches. It makes sense then, that the first Christmas Trees in the U.S. were in early German settlements in Pennsylvania.
English Parliament in 1647 was mostly Puritan, and passed a law banishing any celebrating of Christmas, replacing the festivities with a day of fasting. This led to Christmas rioting in several cities and in Canterbury, rioters took over the town for several weeks!
In Massachusetts, Puritans also saw Christmas celebrations as a pagan act, making a mockery of what Christmas stood for, and outlawed the act of any Christmas trees, decorations, singing of carols, or any other celebration other than attending a church service Christmas Day. However, as more European immigrants arrived, the Puritan voice lost its hold and was soon drown out by people who wanted to celebrate Christmas the way they had before arriving in America.
In 1846, the Illustrated London News showed a sketch of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, with their children, celebrating Christmas in Windsor Castle around a Christmas tree, and that was all it took to push the tradition into mainstream acceptance! Since then, there has been much controversy over the Christmas Tree, but for the immediate future, Christmas Trees are here to stay!
This quick overview came from several extensive sources. Please feel free to comment if there’s something important I left out. Happy Holidays!