Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Melesa from Berlin, MD. Melesa Wonders, “Who displayed the first Christmas tree?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Melesa!

What’s the best part of the holiday season? Here at Wonderopolis, we enjoy getting to spend time with friends and family. Some people like sharing large meals or lighting candles. Many people love to celebrate by decorating a Christmas tree. Their holiday memories include the twinkling lights and colorful ornaments. What about the presents under the tree? Add those in, and it’s no WONDER many people love the sight of the Christmas tree.

Where did this tradition come from? If you think about it, it’s a bit strange. We go into the woods, chop down a tree, and drag it inside our homes. Then we place ornamental balls and lights all over it? Who came up with this?

No one knows for sure who first decorated an evergreen tree. Today, they are connected to the Christian holiday of Christmas. However, decorated trees held special meaning for ancient peoples long before Christianity.

In the Northern Hemisphere, the winter solstice is the shortest day and longest night of the year. It’s usually December 21 or 22 each year. People have honored the winter solstice for thousands of years. Its arrival meant that spring would soon be on its way. Before modern tools to heat our homes, that was definitely something to celebrate! Decorating with evergreen trees and boughs reminded people of the green to come in the spring.

For example, Ancient Romans celebrated the winter solstice with a feast called the Saturnalia. They honored Saturn, the god of agriculture. The Romans believed that Saturn would soon bring back green plants after the passing of the winter solstice. As part of the feast, they would decorate their homes with evergreen boughs.

But when did these trees become a Christmas tradition? Historians believe it began in Germany in the 16th century. The first person to add lights may have been the famous religious reformer, Martin Luther.

According to legend, Luther was walking home through the woods one evening. Looking up, he saw the beauty of the bright stars shining through the tree branches above him. Arriving at home, Luther added candles to an evergreen tree to recreate the scene for his family.

The Christmas tree wasn’t popular among Americans until the late 19th century. Before that time, many people viewed them as pagan symbols. Still, many immigrants brought the tradition with them and continued decorating evergreen trees for the holidays. Over time, they became a symbol of the Christmas season in America.

Today, the United States celebrates each Christmas season by lighting the National Christmas Tree. It sits on an area of the White House lawn known as the Ellipse. This tradition began in 1923 under President Calvin Coolidge.

Christmas trees are also big business. Christmas trees are grown in all 50 states, including Alaska and Hawaii. The Christmas tree industry employs over 100,000 people who plant over 75 million Christmas trees every year.

Do you decorate a Christmas tree? Do you hang holly or light candles instead? What about all the other holidays? What symbols do you decorate with for Halloween? How about New Year’s Day? We WONDER where all our other traditions came from!

Wonder What's Next?

Tomorrow’s Wonder of the Day may have you shouting “Joyeux Noel!”