According to whychristmas.com the evergreen fir tree has traditionally been used to celebrate winter festivals, pagan and Christian, for thousands of years. Pagans used branches of it to decorate their homes during the winter solstice, as it made them think of the spring to come. The Romans used Fir Trees to decorate their temples at the festival of Saturnalia. Christians use it as a sign of everlasting life with God.
The first documented use of a tree at Christmas and New Year celebrations is in town square of Riga, the capital of Latvia, in the year 1510. In the square there is a plaque which is engraved with “The First New Year’s Tree in Riga in 1510”, in eight languages.
In Germany, the first Christmas trees were decorated with edible things, such as gingerbread and gold covered apples. Then glass makers made special small ornaments similar to some of the decorations used today. In 1605 an unknown German wrote: “At Christmas they set up fir trees in the parlours of Strasbourg and hang thereon roses cut out of many-coloured paper, apples, wafers, gold foil, sweets, etc.”
At first, a figure of the Baby Jesus was put on the top of the tree. Over time it changed to an angel/fairy that told the shepherds about Jesus, or a star like the Wise men saw.
The first Christmas trees came to Britain sometime in the 1830s. They became very popular in 1841, when Prince Albert had a Christmas tree set up in Windsor Castle. In 1848, drawing of “The Queen’s Christmas tree at Windsor Castle” was published in the Illustrated London News, 1848.
In Victorian times, the tree would have been decorated with candles to represent stars. In many parts of Europe, candles are still widely used to decorate Christmas trees. Tinsel was also created in Germany, where it was originally made from thin strips of beaten silver. But when plastic / man made tinsel was invented it became very popular as it was much cheaper than real silver and also lighter to go on the tree!
Artificial Christmas trees really started becoming popular in the early 20th century. In the Edwardian period Christmas Trees made from colored ostrich feathers were popular at fashionable parties. Around 1900 there was even a short fashion for white trees – so if you thought colored trees are a new invention they’re not. Over the years artificial trees have been made from feathers, papier mâché, metal, glass, and many different types of plastic.