The History of Christmas Trees (Tinsel and the legend of the Christmas spider)


The evergreen fir has traditionally been used to celebrate winter festivals (pagan and Christian) for thousands of years.

The pagans used their branches to decorate their houses during the winter solstice, as it made them think of the spring that was coming. The Romans used the fir trees to decorate their temples at the Saturnalia festival. Christians use it as a sign of eternal life with God.

No one is really sure when fir trees were used for the first time as Christmas trees. It probably started about 1000 years ago in northern Europe. Many of the first Christmas trees seem to have been hung from the ceiling with chains (hanging from chandeliers / lighting hooks).

The History of Christmas Trees

Other early Christmas trees, in many parts of northern Europe, were the cherry or hawthorn plants (or a branch of the plant) that were placed in pots and introduced into them to bloom at Christmas. If you could not buy a real plant, people made pyramids of forests and were decorated to look like a tree with paper, apples and candles. Sometimes, they were taken from house to house, instead of being shown in a house.


It is possible that the wooden pyramid trees were like the Trees of Paradise. These were used in the medieval German mystery or in Miracle Plays that were performed in front of the churches on Christmas Eve. In the first calendars of the church of the saints, December 24 was the day of Adam and Eve. The Tree of Paradise represented the Garden of Eden. He often paraded through the city before the work began, as a way to promote the work. The works told biblical stories to people who could not read.

The first documented use of a tree in the Christmas and New Year celebrations is discussed between the cities of Tallinn in Estonia and Riga in Latvia! Both claim that they had the first trees; Tallinn in 1441 and Riga in 1510. Both trees were erected by the “Brotherhood of Blackheads”, which was an association of local merchants, ship owners and foreigners in Livonia (what is now Estonia and Latvia).

Little is known about either of the two trees, other than that they were placed in the town square, they were danced by the Brotherhood of the Blackheads and then burned down. This is like the custom of Yule registration. The word used for the “tree” could also mean a mast or a stick, a tree could have been like a “Tree of Paradise” or a wooden candelabrum in the form of a tree instead of a “real” tree.

In the square of the city of Riga, the capital of Latvia, there is a plaque that is engraved with “The tree of the first new year in Riga in 1510”, in eight languages. You can find more information about the Riga Tree on this website:

An image of Germany in 1521 that shows a tree that parades through the streets with a man mounted on horseback behind him. The man is dressed as a bishop, possibly representing Saint Nicholas.

In 1584, the historian Balthasar Russow wrote about a tradition, in Riga, of a decorated fir tree in the market square where the young men “went with a flock of maidens and women, first they sang and danced there and then set fire to the tree”. . There is a record of a small tree in Breman, Germany, since 1570. It is described as a tree decorated with “apples, nuts, dates, pretzels and paper flowers”. It was exhibited in a ‘house of the guild’ (the meeting place for a society of businessmen in the city).

The first person to bring a Christmas tree to a house, as we know it today, may have been the sixteenth-century German preacher, Martin Luther. A story is told that, one night before Christmas, he walked through the forest and looked up to see the stars shining through the branches of the trees. It was so beautiful, he went home and told his children that he reminded him of Jesus, who left the stars of heaven to come to earth at Christmas. Some people say that this is the same tree as the ‘Riga’ tree, but it is not! The Riga tree originally took place a few decades earlier.


The custom of having Christmas trees could well have traveled along the Baltic Sea, from Latvia to Germany. In the 1400s and 1500s, the countries that are now Germany and Latvia were part of two large empires that were neighbors.

Another story says that Saint Boniface of Crediton (a town in Devon, United Kingdom) left England and traveled to Germany to preach to the pagan German tribes and convert them to Christianity. It is said that he encountered a group of pagans about to sacrifice a child while worshiping an oak tree. In anger, and to stop the sacrifice, it is said that Saint Boniface cut the oak and, to his surprise, a young fir sprouted from the roots of the oak. St. Boniface took this as a sign of the Christian faith and his followers decorated the tree with candles so that St. Boniface could preach to the pagans at night.

There is another legend, from Germany, about how the Christmas tree was born:

Once on a cold Christmas Eve night, a ranger and his family were in their country house gathered around the fire to keep warm. Suddenly, someone knocked on the door. When the ranger opened the door, he found a poor boy standing at the door, lost and alone. The ranger received him at home and the family fed him, washed him and laid him on the bed of the youngest children (he had to share with his brother that night!).

The History of Christmas Trees

The next morning, Christmas morning, the family was awakened by a choir of angels, and the poor boy had become Jesus, the Baby Jesus. The Child Jesus entered the front garden of the country house, broke a branch of a fir and gave it to the family as a gift to thank him for caring for him. Since then, people have remembered that night to bring a Christmas tree to their homes!

In Germany, the first Christmas trees were decorated with edible things, such as gingerbread and apples covered in gold. Then, the glass makers made small special ornaments similar to some of the decorations used today. In 1605, an unknown German wrote: “At Christmas they installed fir trees in the halls of Strasbourg and hung them roses cut out of paper of many colors, apples, wafers, gold plates, sweets, etc.”

At first, a figure of the Child Jesus was placed in the treetop. Over time, he became an angel / fairy who told the shepherds about Jesus, or a star like that of the Magi.

The first Christmas trees arrived in Britain sometime in the 1830s. They became very popular in 1841, when Prince Albert (the German husband of Queen Victoria) had a Christmas tree installed in Windsor Castle. In 1848, the drawing of “The Christmas Tree of the Queen at Windsor Castle” was published in Illustrated London News. The drawing was republished in Lady de Godey’s book, Philadelphia, in December 1850 (but they removed the crown of the queen and the mustache of Prince Albert to make it look “American”!).

The publication of the drawing helped Christmas trees to become popular in the United Kingdom and the United States.

In Victorian times, the tree would have been decorated with candles to represent the stars. In many parts of Europe, candles are still used to decorate Christmas trees.

Tinsel and the legend of the Christmas spider

Tinsel was also created in Germany, where it was originally made of thin strips of beaten silver. But when the man made plastic / mesh was invented, it became very popular because it was much cheaper than real silver and also lighter to go to the tree.


There are also popular stories about how the mesh was created – by The Christmas Spider!

These stories seem to have started in East Germany or Ukraine, but they are also counted in parts of Finland and Scandinavia. Stories are now also popular in other countries such as the United States; Although I live in the UK and most people in my country have never heard of the history / legend!

All versions of the story involve a poor family who can not afford to decorate a Christmas tree (in some versions the tree grew from a pine cone in his house, in others the family bought a tree in the house) . When the children sleep on Christmas Eve, a spider covers the tree with cobwebs. Then, on Christmas morning, the cobwebs magically become silver and gold threads that decorate the tree.

Some versions of the story say that it is the sunlight that transformed the cobwebs into silver and gold, but other versions say that it was Saint Nicholas / Santa Claus / Santa Claus / das Christkind that made magic come true.

In some parts of Germany, Poland and Ukraine it is supposed to be good luck to find a spider or spider web on your Christmas tree. The Christmas tree decorations of the spider web are also popular in Ukraine. They are called “pavuchky” (meaning “little spider”) and the decorations are usually made of paper and silver wire. You could even put an artificial spider web on your tree!

Christmas tree lights

There are some different claims as to who invented popularized the first “electric” Christmas tree light chains. In 1880, the famous inventor Thomas Edison put some of his new electric bulbs around his office. And in 1882 Edward Johnson, who was a colleague of Edison, put together 80 red, white and blue light bulbs and put them on his tree in his New York apartment (there were two additional chains of 28 lights mounted from the ceiling!).

The History of Christmas Trees

In 1890, the company Edison published a brochure that offered lighting services for Christmas. In 1900, another Edison ad offered light bulbs that could be rented, along with their lighting system, for use at Christmas. There are records in a 1891 journal where settlers in Montana used electric lights on a tree. However, most people could not easily use the electric lights of the trees at this time, since electricity was not installed in the houses. But the rich liked to show off with the lights installed just for Christmas, this would have cost around $ 300 per tree and more than $ 2000 in money today!

The electric lights of the trees are the first because they are widely known in the United States in 1895, when President Grover Cleveland has the tree in the White House decorated with lights, since his little daughters liked them! The tradition of the National Christmas Tree on the lawn of the White House began in 1923 with President Calvin Coolidge.

The first chain of electric lights available on the market, which more people could afford, was announced in 1903 when a chain of 24 lights cost $ 12 or lights could be rented from $ 1.50. This was still quite expensive, but much cheaper than $ 300.

Another claim of the first widespread sale of light chains comes from Ralph Morris, an American telephone operator. In 1908, he used a telephone cable to attach small bulbs to a telephone exchange and decorated a table tree with them. Leavitt Morris, the son of Ralph, wrote an article in 1952 for the Christian Science Monitor, about his father inventing Christmas tree lights, since he was unaware of Edison’s lights.


In 1885, a Chicago hospital burned down due to the candles of a Christmas tree. In 1908, the insurance companies of the USA. UU They tried to pass a law that would prohibit the use of candles on Christmas trees due to the many fires they had caused. However, people still used candles to light Christmas trees and there were more fires.

In 1917, a fire from the Christmas tree candles in New York gave an idea to a teenager named Albert Sadacca. His family came from Spain and made novel cages of wicker birds that were lit. Albert thought about using the lights on long ropes and also suggested painting the bulbs with bright colors such as red and green. In the following years, he and his brothers formed the NOMA Electric Company, which became a very famous name in the Christmas lights (I actually have some old NOMA lights in my Christmas decorations!)

The largest number of lights lit at the same time on a Christmas tree is 194,672 and was made by Kiwanis Malmedy / Haute Fagnes Belgium in Malmedy, Belgium, on December 10, 2010!

Many cities and towns have their own Christmas trees. One of the most famous is the tree in Trafalgar Square in London, England, which Norway delivers to the United Kingdom each year as a present ‘thank you’ for the help that the United Kingdom gave Norway in World War II. The White House in the United States has had a large tree in the front yard since the 1920s.

The History behind the Shepherds and Angels in the Christmas Story

The record of most Christmas trees cut in two minutes is 27 and belongs to Erin Lavoie of EE. UU She set the record on December 19, 2008 on the set of Guinness World Records: Die GroBten Weltrekorde in Germany.

Artificial Christmas trees really started to be popular at the beginning of the 20th century. In the Edwardian period, Christmas trees made of colored ostrich feathers were popular at “fashionable” parties. Around 1900 there was even a short fashion for white trees, so if you thought that colored trees are a new invention, they are not! Over the years, artificial trees have been made with feathers, papier-mâché, metal, glass and many different types of plastic.

The tallest artificial Christmas tree was 52m (170.6ft) tall and covered with green PVC leaves. It was called the ‘Tree of Peace’ and was designed by Grupo Sonae Distribuição Brasil and was exhibited at Parque Moinhos de Vento, Porto Alegre, Brazil from December 1, 2001 to January 6, 2002.

In many countries, different trees are used as Christmas trees. In New Zealand, sometimes a tree called ‘Pohutakawa’ is used that has red flowers and in India, the banana or mango trees are sometimes decorated.

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