Long before the advent of Christmas—and even before the birth of Christ—ancient civilizations embraced evergreen boughs, wreaths and garlands as symbols of eternal life amid the darkest days of the winter solstice. From these pagan roots sprouted the modern Christmas tree. The first recorded display of a decorated Christmas tree has been traced to Riga, Latvia, in 1510, and the custom proliferated in 16th- and 17th-century Germany as Protestant elites bedecked their homes and guildhalls with pines and firs garnished with nuts, dates and apples.
Christmas trees grew in popularity in Germany throughout the early 1800s, and German immigrants to the United States brought the yuletide tradition with them to their new homeland. In his book “The Battle for Christmas,” Stephen Nissenbaum writes that, in spite of claims that Hessian soldiers fighting for the British during the Revolutionary War erected the first Christmas trees in America, it was the Pennsylvania German community, likely after 1820, who first brought the custom to the United States.
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