O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree!

Last week, we took a stroll through the evolution of Santa Claus. This week, it’s time to look at the custom of Christmas trees.

While there are references to Christmas trees in early American writings, the custom of decorating a tree never really caught on until the 1840s when Queen Victoria and Prince Albert decided to put up a holiday tree:

Once the royal family’s new custom became known Christmas trees caught on like wild fire, so to speak, both in Britain and the United States. The earliest holiday celebrations with Christmas trees as the centerpiece usually featured smaller, decorated trees that often sat on a table. Many of the decorations were homemade from common household items – cotton, wire, cut out images from magazines and fabric scraps.

ChristmasTreeLC2He Laughs Best Who Laughs Last, 1897
Source: Library of Congress

As the Victorian age ended and families were beginning to have some leisure time and extra spending money, Christmas trees came into their own as large holiday focal points, no longer on tables and taking up significant space in a room.

Christmas Tree, c1900-1935
Source: Library of Congress

Small Christmas neighborhoods were set up near the tree and gifts were piled underneath or nearby.

Even the White House got into the Christmas tree business. President Benjamin Harrison is reported to have had the first indoor Christmas tree. the first National Christmas Tree, decorated outdoors, was lit up by President Calvin Coolidge in 1923.

Surprisingly, there are no pre-1950s Christmas tree photos surviving in my family collection. I guess that taking pictures of the holiday didn’t get to be too important until the grandparents wanted photos of the grandbabies enjoying the holiday.

The earliest Christmas tree photos I have date from 1955 and 1956.

Linda and Xmas 1955

In December 1956, my parents loaded up the car and we drove from New Jersey to Massachusetts to spend Christmas with my grandparents. It’s the only family Christmas I ever spent growing up not in our own home. I think it might have had something to do with the fact that I would soon be grandchild #1 out of 3 instead of the first and only grandchild, as I would be joined by my brother and cousin the following spring and summer.

Christmas 1956 at the Adams Home

I wish I had more family photos from the holidays, but it seems they just weren’t the time when my relatives thought to take them!

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