10 The Christmas Tree

The Christmas tree has been a part of Christmas decorating since at least the 16th century in Germany, where legend has it that Martin Luther was so dazzled by the stars in the night sky before Christmas, that he brought a small tree into his house and decorated it with candles. The Christmas tree was later imported to America by Hessian soldiers during the American Revolution, and to Britain by German Immigrants in the late 18th century. In any event, it is an enduring tradition.

The first Christmas trees were decorated with candles, fruits and sweetmeats, gilded nuts, ribbons, flags, and even small toys. It wasn't until Victorian England that the fruits and nuts were gradually replaced by blown glass ornaments. Today, many of our glass ornaments are still shaped like fruits, nuts, and other treats.

Even before the fir tree became the favored Christmas decoration, people were in the habit of bringing in a small potted tree -- cherry and hawthorn trees being the favorites -- and forcing it into bloom for Christmas. Perhaps this custom relates to the story of the Glastonbury Thorn, which legend has it was planted by Joseph of Arimathea to bloom on Christmas Day. Going back still further, the Pagan custom of revering the spirits of trees may have also influenced our custom of placing a tree in the place of honor for the magical season of Christmas.