The holiday season is full of traditions.
From mistletoe to menorahs, each one of our traditions has a story and a history.
The other day, as I decorated my family Christmas tree, I found myself wondering, “Why do we trim the tree? And why on earth do we call it ‘trimming’?”
Although we do not cut the tree, we do “embellish with or as if with ribbons, lace, or ornaments” – as the Miriam Webster definition for the transitive verb “trim” states. The word “trim,” while we use it interchangeably with “cut,” actually comes from the Middle English verb “trimmen” meaning to put in order, which comes from the Old English word “trymman” or “trymian” meaning to arrange or strengthen. How’s that for a little English lesson?
Now I understand why it’s calling “trimming,” but why do we actually decorate the tree? Since ancient times, evergreens represented everlasting life and were used in many spiritual displays. The Christmas tree we are familiar with was a tradition started in Germany in the 16th century. Christians would bring decorated trees into their homes or build Christmas pyramids of wood and decorate them with evergreens around the holiday season.
Christmas trees were originally decorated with edibles including fruits and nuts. It is believed that Martin Luther, the 16th century Protestant reformer, was the first to add candles to his Christmas tree in an attempt to mimic the appearance of starts twinkling through evergreens outside.
It took a while for the Christmas tree tradition to make it to America. The New England Puritans who settled Connecticut considered it a pagan symbol, a belief that lasted into the 1840s.
Eventually, German and Irish immigrants helped make the Christmas tree a holiday staple and a national tradition. Christmas trees were first sold commercially around 1850.
Nowadays, Christmas trees are seen in religious, private and civic spaces. In 1912, the first community Christmas tree in the United States was erected in New York City. In 1923, President Calvin Coolidge started the National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony held every year on the White House lawn. Today, arguably the most famous public Christmas tree in the country hails from Connecticut, and stands tall in Rockefeller Center.
The Christmas tree industry thrives in Connecticut. The 2007 Census of Agriculture found 343 farms in Connecticut that cut a total of 113,622 trees annually. Many of these Christmas tree farms offer important seasonal jobs, and contribute to the local economy. If you want to learn more about Connecticut Christmas tree farms, or find a place to pick out your tree this year, visit the Connecticut Christmas Tree Growers Association website: www.ctchristmastree.org.
From simple evergreen displays and candle lit trees to the elaborately decorated trees of today, the Christmas tree, like all traditions, has evolved over time. Understanding the origins of our traditions gives us an interesting look into our own history, and makes us wonder what new traditions will stick around for future generations.