The Christmas tree has various, ahem, roots in
Northern European history. Pagans brought branches inside to remind them of
spring around the Winter Solstice, hoping the sun god would soon return. The Romans did something similar to celebrate Saturnalia,
the feast of agriculture.
In Medieval Germany, Adam and Eve Day was Dec. 24 and the
tree represented the Paradise Tree from the Garden of Eden. Wooden pyramids were decorated with evergreen branches and candles.
In 15th-century Latvia, Brotherhood of Blackheads, an
association of unmarried merchants and ship owners, set up a tree in the town square
and set fire to it -- very rock 'n' roll, if you ask us. The tradition continued to morph as
legend has it that Martin Luther saw a beautiful tree that reminded him of
Jesus during a walk in the woods and brought it inside, illuminating it with candles
to symbolize the stars poking through the boughs.
The Christmas tree spread around Europe through
the aristocracy from France to Russia in the early 1800s. In the 1840s, Queen
Victoria decorated a tabletop tree with her family and the trend suddenly took
off, despite American pilgrims trying to ban any non-church related observances
of Christmas. Trees briefly waned in popularity due to their German roots during WWI, but by the
1920s they were a common American Christmas tradition.