As early as 1749 it is recorded that evergreen boughs were used to decorate the pews and alter of a Catholic church in Philadelphia, but it took a little while before people began hauling the whole tree into their houses. Not until the 1830s do we hear about the first fur trees placed with care and
Christmas trees were at first decorated by what was available: nuts, strings of popcorn, fruit, dried fruit, candies and homemade trinkets. Then newspapers and magazines began to set the bar, offering ideas that soon made people want to set aside homey ornaments for sophisticated and uniform ones. Soon businesses stepped in, providing glittery baubles, wax figurines, and tin shapes in abundance, importing many from Germany.
In my recently released short story, "I Heard the Bells", included in the anthology A Bit of Christmas, the main character decides a Christmas tree might ease the tension between him and his brother. It is 1864 and Gabriel Morgan is home in Virginia for a couple of days at Christmas...after spending the last three years fighting for the Union Army while his family staked their allegiances with the Confederacy.
He flashed a grin as he knelt to tack a makeshift stand onto the trunk. “Surely you’ve seen a Christmas tree before.”
“Yes, but it looked nothing like that.”
“Don’t be so quick to judge. There’s potential.” He glanced at his brother. “Remember that year Pa was away? We didn’t want to wait, so we went out ourselves. You must have been six or seven, and me maybe ten. I still remember the look on Mama’s face.”
Probably because you saw it again when you hauled this tree past her. Clara bit her tongue.
With no reply from Lawrence, Gabriel stood the tree upright and left. A few minutes later, he returned with a handful of nuts, a single candle, some string and clusters of crimson berries that he began to distribute amongst the branches.
“Are those rosehips?”
“We needed something to brighten this room.”
So how do you decorate your tree? With homemade trinkets, or store-bought baubles and bows?