Skip to Content

Why Is There a Tree in the Living Room?

When I was a child – sometime during the first Roosevelt Administration – the annual Christmas Tree was a truly strange thing. All year my mother tenaciously swept anything resembling nature out of the house. Then, without warning, there was a tree in the living room, usually accompanied by muttering about having to pick up pine needles. How could this be? A tree inside the house?

618px-Corrodi-Fabeln_und_Bilder_10
Family Christmas Tree
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

The tree appeared just before Christmas Eve – about the time a 5 year old has given up all hope. One Christmas Eve, the sun shone through the window onto an empty space. The tree, a distinct shade of brown, showed up after dark. It was rehabilitated with lots of recycled tinsel, and removed before dinner the next day.

“Mother, why can’t we get a tree when the school does?”

“Ask your father.”

 Hmmm. Definitely a case of how badly did I want to know?

 O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
 Thy leaves are so unchanging;


O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
 Thy leaves are so unchanging;


Not only green when summer’s here, but also when ’tis cold and drear.


O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree! 
Thy leaves are so unchanging!

“Father, why can’t we get our tree at the beginning of December?”

“Humph!

 If we got it then, it would be dead by Christmas.

By getting it later, we can keep it up into January.”

“Oh.”

O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
 Much pleasure thou can’st give me;

O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
 Much pleasure thou can’st give me;

How often has the Christmas tree , a
fforded me the greatest glee!

O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree! 
Much pleasure thou can’st give me.



The Germans were the first to bring trees inside the house. No one knows why. And not everyone thought it was a good idea. In the 17th century theologian Johann Dannhauer wrote, “Among other trifles which are set up during Christmas time, instead of God’s word is the Christmas tree or fir tree which is put up at home and decorated with dolls and sweets. Whence comes this custom, I know not.” I don’t think Johann was much fun at Christmas parties.

O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
 Thy candles shine so brightly!

O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
 Thy candles shine so brightly!

From base to summit, gay and bright,
 there’s only splendor for the sight.

O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
 Thy candles shine so brightly!


1870_ChristmasTree_byEhninger_HarpersBazaar
Drawing by John Whetten Ehninger
Harpers Bazaar, Jan. 1, 1870
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

When the German George I became king of England, he brought the Christmas tree with him. But no one paid attention until Prince Albert set one up in Windsor Castle in 1841. The Illustrated London News depicted the Queen Victoria’s Royal Family enjoying the tree. Suddenly everyone wanted to bedeck a tree with candles, quilted snowflakes, little baskets filled with sugared almonds, beads, silver tinsel and a Victorian angel on top.

O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
 How richly God has decked thee!

O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
 How richly God has decked thee!


Thou bidst us true and faithful be, 
and trust in God unchangingly.

O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
 How richly God has decked thee!”


Well, God may have made the tree, but my chubby hands placed each strand of tinsel on a separate needle, and when it was time to take off the ornaments, each strand had to be individually removed so it could be used again. *sigh*

IMG_0524
Christmas Tree, 2013
Photo by Author

Childhood memories of tinsel distribution influence my adult decorating decisions. For years, I‘ve used an artificial tree. Not because I want to save the earth, but so I can put it up on the first day of December and keep it up until the 12th Day of Christmas on January 6. I keep lights shining brightly. And, I never, ever use tinsel.

Lyrics to O Christmas Tree (O Tannenbaum) written by Ernst Anschütz in 1824. Anschütz was less interested in Christmas trees than the evergreen fir’s faithfulness to life. While other trees gave up their leaves in winter, the evergreen maintains its true color.

How about you? Do you have childhood memories of tediously placing tinsel on the tree? Do you prefer living trees, fresh trees, or artificial trees? Leave a comment.

Author Sandra Wagner Wright

Sandra Wagner-Wright is the author of Two Coins: A Biographical Novel and Rama's Labyrinth. Both books are available in digital and print editions at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, and Kobo. Rama’s Labyrinth and Two Coins are available as audiobooks.

Sandra blogs weekly about topics related to her travels, writing life, and the incongruities of life in general.

5 thoughts on “WHY IS THERE A TREE IN THE LIVING ROOM?

  1. As a child we always had a live tree in the living room and the smell of pine was wonderful! One year my mother decided that instead of our usual odd collection of decorations we would have a “theme” Christmas. Any gift put under the tree had to be wrapped in gold-colored paper. The tree itself had gold-colored satin balls in graduating sizes, the largest on the lowest branches. The very top of the tree held a rather drab brownish obviously fake bird. She said it was “a partridge in a pear tree”. Thank goodness the following year we returned to our “regular” decorations.

  2. As a child in England my parents always decorated the home big time but the decorations always had to be removed before the 6th of January or you would have bad luck all year. How we are governed by superstitions but still I insist all decorations are removed by January 6th. I want a happy and prosperous New Year – is that so bad of me?

  3. We too had to put the tinsel on one strand at a time & remove the same way, but it was all worth it when it looked so pretty and smelled so good! We, however, did not have to wait to put up the tree so usually enjoyed it for at least 3 weeks. So sad to take it down – Christmas was over for another year.

  4. we had a real tree – in the family room – and it was decorated by my parents with wonderful ornaments from Germany. A very few of them are left and stored in my attic. Tinsel was put on and most of it left on when the tree was taken down in early January. My husband and I have a very old ugly artificial tree bought on sale for about $5 about 37 or 38 years ago. One of our children had allergies so we could not have a real tree. This cheap ugly tree has been used yearly until last year. It is the family joke – we put it up in our family room and put lights on it – from outside on the road it looks lovely – close up – it is a bit of a horror.

  5. I must admit that an artificial Christmas tree never has the right smell. No matter how much “pine scented” air freshener you try, it is never the same. And, remembering the first artificial trees — not very enticing. My grandparents had one of the first ones — silver in color with a revolving light stand at the bottom. I think they used red “balls” for decoration. It just never seemed quite right, somehow.

reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.