The Christmas tree tradition is generally attributed to Norse legends and German practices. The German tradition is said to begin with Martin Luther who saw a group of snowy fir trees and was so impressed with the gentle quiet of the sight that he decorated a small tree in his house for his family.
Prior to the early 1800s, Christmas in this country was not celebrated the way it is now. It was a drunken, sloppy, loud celebration and not conducive to anything religious or family.
Then two things happened - a lady's magazine article and a poem.
The traditional, annual tree began as ladies in the United States, enthralled with everything Queen Victoria did, began keeping up with the British Royal Family.
Queen Victoria married her cousin, the German Prince Albert, in 1841. She wore a white dress, which practice caught on in this country following publication of that announcement.
As a child Victoria remembered a Christmas tree being placed in every room. By the mid 1840s the German tradition had caught on everywhere in Europe. They called it "bringing in the green." The tree she wanted placed in the dining room after her marriage to Prince Albert impressed even him, and he wrote, "Their delight in the Christmas tree is not less than ours used to be."
A woodcut of this celebration was made, and published in a London magazine in 1848. It was discovered by Godey's Lady's Book Magazine, and published here in 1850.
Godey's smartly altered the woodcut, removing the queen's crown and Albert's mustache to make the scene appear as any normal American family home. Godey's called the scene, simply, "The Christmas Tree."
A similar article, and the woodcut, was printed every year and by 1870 the practice had really caught on. The holiday was proffered to the American public as a family day and day of worship.
Trees were decorated with candles, paper ornaments, candy canes (which were all white, but minty) and a tin star. Yes, they were dangerous!
Another thing to change the American Christmas holiday first happened in 1822. It was a poem, written anonymously by Clement Clark Moore, originally to his children and entitled, "An Account of a Visit From St. Nicholas." It was published by a New York magazine, The Sentinel, in 1823, author anonymous.
Later, on 13 March 1862, he rewrote it by hand for his daughter, calling it, "The Night Before Christmas." His family made it known that Moore was the author, and he is given credit today.
In 1881 the popular political illustrator Thomas Nast (responsible for the elephant and donkey so familiar to our political parties) came up with the visual concept we all now regard as Santa Claus.
It was later printed in color and the modern Santa was born.
Nobody has sold more products, advertised more products, been the impetus behind more products than Santa Claus.
It was in 1858 that one R. H. Macy established his famous store in New York City, soon after seizing upon Santa as a way to sell dry goods and wrapping paper at Christmas time. And we all know the parade started in 1924. The rest is retail history.
So, in less than 100 years, a drunken celebration was transformed into a familial, religious and retail tradition that continues today.
Oh, Clark's original poem ended with the phrase "Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night." That was changed too, to "MERRY," by the same magazines and publishers. They thought the word merry had a more appealing twist.
And so, as you decorate your homes and trees this Christmas season, really remembering of course the reason for this season, remember also that the holiday did not always contain the traditions we now hold.
And don't stay up tonight to try to see the red, round guy. He knows when you are sleeping, and if you are awake. He doesn't come if you stay up all night.
Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.