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Christmas tree

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A Christmas tree in a Danish home

The Christmas tree is an evergreen tree that is cut just before Christmas, carried indoors, placed in a stand of some sort, and decorated with colorful glass ornaments, strings of small electrical lights, and other trims. A toy star or a paper angel is usually put on the tree top. On Christmas Eve, presents are placed beneath the tree.

The origin of the Christmas tree is lost to time. Some say Martin Luther created the first tree after seeing the stars shine through a fir tree on a winter evening. He cut a tree, took it home, and decorated it with candles.

The Christmas tree is not a religious symbol. It was a wintertime custom in Germany, Scandinavia, and other Protestant lands.

A Christmas tree was the subject of the 1844 fairy tale "The Fir Tree" by Hans Christian Andersen. The little tree has one splendid night in all his trims and decorations, and then is thrown away without a second thought. As the tree rests atop a trash heap, he longs for his happy days in the forest, when the rabbits and birds were his friends, and he listened to the breezes.

Queen Victoria had Christmas trees when she was a child, but it wasn't until a picture of her Christmas tree was published in a magazine that the custom was adopted on a wide scale by the British. From England, the custom went to the United States after a picture of the Queen's tree was published in American magazines.

In some places, outdoor fir and pine trees near houses and public buildings are trimmed with electrical lights for Christmas. The most famous outdoor trees are perhaps those in Rockefeller Plaza in New York City and the National Tree in Washington, DC.

In the past, hiking into the woods to cut a tree was hard work and used a lot of time. As a result, paper and feather Christmas trees were made in factories. These artificial trees were sold in stores, and could be used year after year. Eventually, Christmas tree farms sprang up. These farmed trees are cut down, and trucked to nearby cities where they are sold on street corners.

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