Christmas tree traditions ever changing

Staff Writer
Pawhuska Journal-Capital
Christmas trees today come in many styles and sizes. Roseanne McKee/Examiner-Enterprise

Like many Christmas traditions, the reasons for having a decorated tree indoors varies among cultures and over time.

The symbolic meaning of Christmas trees has origins in pagan culture where evergreens represent life, rebirth and the stamina needed to endure the winter months, according to a Dec. 5, 2007, article on the website —

The article suggests that in Scandinavian and Norse cultures the winter solstice was marked by decorating evergreen trees. These cultures believed that evil spirits were stronger during the winter months. Evergreen trees were placed in homes as a form of protection from the evil spirits.

Due to the Puritan’s influence, Christmas trees were slow to gain popularity in New England, where Christmas was sacred in the 1600s. According to an article on the History channel’s website entitled “History of Christmas Trees,” the pilgrims’s second governor, William Bradford, opposed the “pagan mockery” of Christmas and penalized what he viewed as any frivolity associated with it.

Likewise, Oliver Cromwell preached against “the heathen traditions” of Christmas carols, decorated trees, and any joyful expression that desecrated “that sacred event.”

Per the article, “in 1659, the General Court of Massachusetts enacted a law making any observance of Dec. 25 (other than a church service) a penal offense; people were fined for hanging decorations. That stern solemnity continued until the 19th century, when the influx of German and Irish immigrants undermined the Puritan legacy.”

However, things began to change when the 16th century protestant reformer Martin Luther decided to have lit candles on his family’s tree. The History Channel’s website article states that “walking toward his home one winter evening, composing a sermon, he was awed by the brilliance of stars twinkling amidst evergreens. To recapture the scene for his family, he erected a tree in the main room and wired its branches with lighted candles.”

In the 19th century Christians, who viewed the evergreen tree as a symbol of the Tree of Life, began decorating trees with candles, representing the light of Christ, said a Dec. 5, 2007 article on the website

According to the History Channel’s article, the first record of a Christmas tree being on display in the United States Christmas was in Pennsylvania by German immigrants.

The History Channel article states that in the 1890s Christmas ornaments began to be imported from Germany to the United States. Trees were also decorated with apples, nuts, marzipan cookies and popcorn dyed in bright colors and berries.

With the invention of electricity Christmas trees with lights began to become popular in town squares across the United States.

According to the Rockefeller Center website,, in December 1931 demolition workers at the Rockefeller Center construction site pooled their money together to buy a 20-foot Christmas tree, and they decorated it with handmade garlands. Thereafter, the Rockefeller Center decided to take up this annual tradition, which continues to the present day.

The White House history website,, states that the first Christmas tree in the White House was located on second floor in the yellow oval room, which served as the family room, in 1889 by President Benjamin Harrison, and was decorated with candles and toys for the Harrison grandchildren.

President Grover Cleveland was the first to use electric Christmas tree lights at the White House, the website says.

And, President Calvin Coolidge was the first chief executive to preside over the National Christmas tree lighting ceremony in 1923.

Themed Christmas trees have become a tradition in many households. There is no limit to the themes people think of for their trees — angels, nutcrackers, Santas, sports teams — the list is endless.

A tradition of having a special ornament each year has also developed at the Choctaw Nation, the Oklahoma Governor’s Mansion and the White House among many others.

The Choctaw Nation, based in Durant, has a special ornament depicting some aspect of the Choctaw culture. This year’s ornament honors Choctaw codetalkers, who spoke in their native language during World War I to transmit messages that the enemy could not understand.

The White House Historical Association has created a special ornament for 2018 honoring President Harry S. Truman. The White House Historical Association website says this 38th addition to the collection is double-sided and designed to illustrate three significant changes made by President Truman to the White House during his administration — the addition of the Truman balcony, renovation of the blue room, and the change in the presidential seal.

The Oklahoma Friends of the Mansion have created a special holiday ornament too, the 22nd in the series on behalf of the Oklahoma Governor’s Mansion. The proceeds of the sale of the ornaments will be used for the preservation, restoration and improvement of the historic Oklahoma Governor’s Mansion and grounds. This year’s ornament features a snowflake.

However you decided to decorate your Christmas tree this year, if you choose to do so, have fun and have a Merry Christmas.