The History and Symbolism of Christmas Trees

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Christmas trees have long been seen as symbols of joy and hope; however, did you know they originated as Christian traditions?

Germans first established Christmas trees during the 16th century as part of medieval ‘paradise plays’ that dramatized Biblical stories for an illiterate audience.


Live or artificial Christmas trees have long been an integral part of holiday festivities in many homes today, dating back to pagan times when evergreen plants were seen as symbols of immortality – reminding people that spring would eventually return again after its wintry descent.

Modern Christmas trees may have their origins in Western Germany where they were first employed during medieval performances of Adam and Eve on 24 December (Catholic feast day) through ‘Paradise Trees’ that represented Eden with apples as symbols of forbidden fruit. Protestant reformer Martin Luther is widely thought to have added illuminated candles for the first time to his tree; legend has it that while walking home from church on one winter evening he was inspired by seeing stars twinkling among evergreen trees; wanting to recreate this beauty for his family.

At Christmas time in 1510 in Riga, Latvia, the first decorated tree ever seen at this holiday was set up and decorated by merchants’ guild members of Riga in their marketplace and danced around it. Dr John Watkins noted that this particular fir tree was decorated with bunches of sweetmeats, nuts and raisins wrapped in paper along with fruits and toys all tastefully arranged on it.


Christmas trees are an uplifting part of the holiday season, both real and artificial alike. Real or artificial alike, Christmas trees bring joy to families of all sizes and backgrounds alike and serve as a powerful symbolism reminder of Jesus’ death and resurrection as well as evergreen’s longevity symbolizing eternal life and new beginnings.

Long before Christianity became widespread, ancient peoples decorated their homes and temples with evergreen branches to ward off witches, ghosts, and evil spirits while simultaneously symbolizing hope during winter months.

One legend credits St. Boniface with introducing the Christmas tree into Germany in the 8th century. According to tradition, when he arrived in Geismar in Hesse (now Hessen), he saw that local Saxons worshiped an oak tree dedicated to Thor, Norse god of thunder and lightning. So Boniface took an axe to cut it down but wind came along and finished it for him!

Martin Luther is often credited for popularizing the modern Christmas tree during the 16th century. He combined two customs that had previously been practiced across different countries: Paradise Tree – representing knowledge in Eden Garden; and Christmas Light (fir tree with apples, tinsel balls and candle on top).


Christmas trees can serve more than one purpose; they also hold symbolic meaning that can range from religious significance to just enjoying winter season celebrations and appreciating nature’s gifts.

Christmas tree symbolism can be complex, as it encompasses different beliefs from various faith groups and cultures. Some believe the Christmas tree represents the Tree of Life from Genesis 3; symbolizing eternal life; while others see it as a reminder of Jesus’ death and resurrection or symbolizing hope of rebirth.

Even trees without religious significance often feature ornaments that reflect their history and traditions of the holiday. From simple paper cutouts to elaborate figurines or handmade glass ornaments, decorations on Christmas trees reflect its history and traditions through ornamentation that speaks of gold, silver and green ornaments – or simply represent your family traditions during Christmastime.

It is believed that the modern Christmas tree tradition began in western Germany as part of an ancient medieval play depicting Adam and Eve. By the 16th century, decorated fir trees began being decorated with apples and wafers (representing Eucharistic host and Christian redemption), to represent Eden. By 18th century these Paradise Trees began being set up in homes across Germany; often decorated with candles.


Long before Christianity was introduced to Europe, people used evergreen trees to celebrate winter festivals. Mistletoe was often used to ward off evil spirits while temples decorated with green pine branches symbolizing eternal life – many traditions found their way into Christian symbolism and became part of modern Christmas tree celebrations. Modern celebrations may have begun around 16th century when devout Christians brought fir trees into their homes as “paradise trees”, similar to Adam and Eve’s tree from biblical Garden of Eden. Martin Luther, Protestant reformer was said to be first one who added lights – thus beginning what has become celebrated today as Christmas celebrations!

By the mid 19th century, Christmas trees had become an ubiquitous feature of American homes, particularly among German immigrants. At first, many Christians mistook Christmas trees as pagan symbols and did not include them in their celebrations; but that all changed around 1848 with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert placing their young children around a decorated spruce fir Christmas tree that they decorated themselves – this image eventually made the cover illustration of Godey’s Lady Book and catapulted its popularity further.

At present, Christmas trees have become an international symbol that represents hope and light during what can often be the darkest period of the year for most people worldwide. Christmas celebrations take place across multiple cultures.