The Real Origin of the Christmas Tree

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), December 24, 2017 | Go to article overview

The Real Origin of the Christmas Tree


A self-professed lover of Christmas, Martin Luther has his fingerprints all over the holiday season. But the German theologian/monk during the early 1500s was not responsible for introducing the Christmas tree into the home.

"That legend is well-established 'fake news,' you might say," said the Rev. William Beckmann of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Batavia.

Luther established a pattern of major changes in Protestant Reform, and did the same with some Christmas customs and traditions. But he does get credit for things he didn't do, Beckmann said this week during his annual presentation about Christmas history, lore and myths for the Tri-Cities Exchange Club.

"According to legend, Luther was walking home one night and was so overcome by the beauty of a fir tree and the stars in the sky, he wanted to tell his family about it," Beckmann said.

Luther couldn't put his emotions into words when he got home, so he cut down the tree, brought it home and decorated it with candles for stars.

"Was it the first Christmas tree in Germany? Probably not, because the Christmas tree didn't get to Germany until several decades later," Beckmann said.

Still, it's clear that Christmas trees were becoming popular through Europe and England in the 16th century, Beckmann added.

"A more likely story about the origin of the Christmas tree comes from the medieval mystery plays, one with a fir tree as a stage prop for the story of Adam and Eve," he said.

When those types of plays lost popularity, people brought the "paradise tree" from the Garden of Eden into their homes and decorated them, Beckmann said.

Beckmann has given his presentation to Exchange Club members for nearly 30 years, and touched on many aspects of the holiday yet again.

As I have done for nearly as long, I'll share more of the good reverend's research and insights to spread the holiday cheer on this Christmas Eve:

Light them up: The Edison Company labs came up with electric lights for Christmas trees in 1882 and sold the rights to produce them to General Electric. "They were easy to set up and could be left on four hours, even left unattended," Beckmann said. "Unfortunately, they were costly.

"In 1920, a string of eight lights cost about $80, or about a week's wages in those times," he said.

Still, lighting a Christmas tree became a popular event, with President Grover Cleveland being the first to do it in the White House in 1895.

Give Luther credit: Martin Luther may not be able to make claim to being the first to bring a Christmas tree into the home, but he certainly was involved in the German tradition of Christkindl.

Luther introduced Christkindl as a way to deflect attention away from St. Nicholas. …

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