The tradition of using evergreen boughs, including holly and mistletoe, as decoration during winter celebrations is ancient. In the Middle East, trees were traditionally cut down, brought into the home, and decorated. Evergreens are a natural symbol of hope and the promise of renewed life in the spring during a time when most plants are barren in European climates. Today, the Christmas tree is the most famous and widely used legacy of this tradition that predates Christianity.
In the early days of the Christian church, and even up until the 19th century, the use of evergreen decorations and trees during Christmas was discouraged or prohibited because of its pagan associations. Although many other elements of pre-Christian winter holidays, such as the Roman Saturnalia, were retained in Christmas celebrations, evergreen decorations were commonly condemned. Ironically, some people now object to the public display of Christmas trees because of the Christian symbolism they have relatively recently come to represent.
The first incarnation of the Christmas tree, as we now know it, occurred in 16th century Germany, where it was used to celebrate a 24 December holiday called "The Feast of Adam and Eve." These trees were called "paradise trees" and were thought to be related to the Tree of Knowledge discussed in the book of Genesis. German immigrants brought the tree to America in the 17th century, and it became accepted as a Christmas decoration throughout the Western world only around 1850. President Franklin Pierce is credited with bringing the first one into the White House around this time, and President Calvin Coolidge founded the National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony, which takes place on the White House lawn, in 1923.
Decorating the tree is also a longstanding tradition. Although pagans at the time of the Roman Empire did not cut down trees and bring them into the home, they were known to decorate living trees with candles and metal decorations, some depicting the god Bacchus. Christmas trees have been decorated since their origin in the 16th century Europe, first with edible treats. Candles became popular sometime in the late 18th century, and they began to be replaced with electric lights around the turn of the 20th century. Blown glass ornaments first appeared as mainly Czech and Polish products around the end of the 19th century.
Today, the Christmas tree is enjoyed as a holiday decoration by people of many cultures and religions. To Christians, its promise of renewed life during a barren season symbolizes Christ's resurrection and promise of eternal life. Some people prefer the term "holiday tree," as it emphasizes the secular use of the decoration, although some Christians find this offensive.