The exact history of the Christmas tree is somewhat disputed. Many believe it has its roots in pagan celebrations of the winter solstice. Romans, for example, marked the solstice with a feast called the Saturnalia in honor of Saturn, the god of agriculture. They knew the solstice meant that farms and orchards would soon be green and fruitful again. To celebrate, they decorated their homes and temples with evergreen trees.
The introduction of the evergreen as a Christmas tradition is generally believed to date back to 16th century Germany, when devout Christians started bringing decorated trees into their homes.
And it was Martin Luther, the protestant reformer, who first added candles to the trees. The story goes that as he was walking home one evening he was awed by the brilliance of stars twinkling amidst the evergreens. To recreate the scene for his family, Martin Luther put an evergreen in the main room of his home and wired its branches with lighted candles.
The arrival of the Christmas tree in America dates back to 1846, when Queen Victoria and her German Prince, Albert, were sketched in the Illustrated London News standing with their children around a Christmas tree. The queen was popular with British subjects and fashion conscious Americans on the East Coast, both of whom soon started bringing Christmas trees into their homes.
By the early 20th century, as ornaments expanded to include electric lights that could glow for days on end, Christmas trees began appearing in town squares and homes across America. And they’ve been a permanent holiday fixture ever since.