How the Christmas tree tradition came about

Public Christmas trees, like the famous Rockefeller Center tree, did not appear in the United States until the 20th century. (Credit: Nicholas Hunt/WireImage via Getty Images)

Why do so many people endure the mess of dried pine needles, the threat of a fire hazard, and impossibly tangled strings of lights every Christmas?

Sometimes when I strap a Christmas tree to the hood of my car and I’m concerned about the strength of the twine, I wonder if I should just buy an artificial tree and save myself all the hassle. Then my inner historian (opens in new tab) scold me – I need to remind myself that I take part in one of the oldest religious traditions in the world. Giving up the tree would mean giving up a ritual that took place before Christmas itself.

A symbol of life in a time of darkness

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