Evergreens were used to decorate homes during winter long before Christmas became a holiday. Evergreens were believed to keep witches, ghosts, evil spirits and illnesses away from homes where they were displayed.
Germany is credited with the traditional Christmas Tree celebration of decorating trees and bringing them into their homes. It is believed that Martin Luther, the 16th century Protestant reformer was the first to add lighted candles to the tree. He wanted to recapture the sparkling stars on a dark night and how the stars illuminated his walk home, so he brought a tree into his home and placed it in the center of the room. He then wired the tree branches with lighted candles.
By 1890, Christmas ornaments were arriving in America from Germany and the Christmas tree became popular in the U.S. In the early 20th century most Americans were using homemade ornaments on their trees. While Europeans liked their trees to be small, Americans liked their trees to reach from floor to ceiling. Popular homemade ornaments included popcorn strings decorated by being dyed bright colors and laced with berries and nuts. Electricity changed the tree to include electric lights and trees began to glow in town squares and in homes all across America, making the Christmas Tree, a American tradition.
Many cities claim to be the first city to have a Christmas tree in America including: Windsor Locks, a city in Connecticut. They claim that a Hessian soldier put up a Christmas tree in 1777 while he was imprisoned at the Noden-Reed House, making it the first Christmas tree in New England.
Easton, Pennsylvania also claims that German settlers put up a Christmas tree in 1816. There is a diary entry made by Matthew Zahm, of Lancaster Pennsylvania, which says a Christmas tree was put up in 1832.
A German immigrant living in Boston, Charles Follen, claimed the custom itself of decorating the Christmas tree. Another German immigrant from Wooster, Ohio is said to have made popular the practice of decorating the Christmas tree by cutting down spruce trees from a wooded area by his town, and having a tinsmith construct a star, he placed the tree in his house, decorating it with paper ornaments and candy canes. He was recognized by the National Confectioners' Association as being the first to put candy canes on a Christmas tree. Those first candy canes were all white though and had no red stripes.
The Christmas tree today is a very important part of the celebration of Christmas. The tree symbolizes life.