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Robert McNamara

History of Christmas Trees

By December 16, 2013

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The tradition of decorating Christmas trees became widespread in the 1800s. And like all good traditions, there are varying accounts of how that happened.

An entirely credible explanation is that Queen Victoria's German husband, Prince Albert, made his homeland's custom very fashionable in England. Affluent New Yorkers jumped on the trend and the custom eventually spread to other places in America.

Another version of Christmas tree history holds that a Hessian prisoner in the Revolutionary War decorated the first Christmas tree in America in Connecticut in 1777. There's also a widely-accepted story from Ohio about a German immigrant decorating a Christmas tree.

The first documented Christmas tree in America dates from the mid-1830s, and the first image of a Christmas tree in America appeared in a book in 1836. In December 1855 the New York Tribune, in an article titled "Christmas In Austria," provided a detailed description of Christmas trees and their history in Europe.

The tradition took decades to catch on in America. And there's even a dispute about when the first Christmas tree was decorated in the White House. It's generally accepted that the family of President Benjamin Harrison had the first presidential Christmas tree in 1889, yet some vague accounts mention trees in the Executive Mansion as far back as the 1840s.

In the 1880s electricity came to Christmas trees, and trees lit with strings of lights started to become a standard holiday decoration. And by the end of the 19th century, Christmas trees were common in American households.

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Illustration: Queen Victoria and family with Christmas tree/Getty Images


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