MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — It is estimated Americans will buy 30 million real trees this year, according to the National Christmas Tree Association.

So, how did this tradition start? And, Lauren from Hutchinson wanted to know: Why do we decorate with lights? Good Question.

“This goes back a long, long way,” said Father Michael Joncas, the artist-in-residence at the University of St. Thomas. “It actually goes back prior to Christianity.”

Just before the winter solstice, Joncas says people in northern climates would put boughs of spruce or fir in their homes.

“Mostly, it was a sign that these things would stay green all year long,” he said. “New life would happen.”

Christians later discovered that tradition and re-read it through their own belief system.

“So that Christ appearing at Christmas, in the middle of the dead of winter, that person who lives forever is being represented by the tree,” Joncas said.

There is evidence that by the 1600s people were replacing the boughs and smaller pieces of green with full trees. It’s likely, though, that was happening centuries before then.

The Germans were then thought to bring the tradition of Christmas trees to the United States in the 19th century. According to Joncas, some Christian denominations didn’t take to the trees right away because of its pagan roots.

So, why the lights?

“This is a case of what I like to call double symbolism,” said Joncas. “Here the boughs represented light in the midst of death and the lights represented life in the midst of darkness.”

Early on, real candles were used to light the trees.

In the late 1800s, it was Thomas Edison who came up with the first string of lights to replace those candles. According to the Library of Congress, Edison’s partner, Edward Johnson, created red, white and blue ones for his Christmas tree in 1882.

It wasn’t until 1903 that General Electric offered the pre-assembled light kits.

Heather Brown

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