The Christmas Tree is an ancient symbol of life in the middle of the cold winter. Romans decorated their houses with evergreen branches during the New Year, and ancient inhabitants of northern Europe cut evergreen trees and planted them in boxes inside their houses in wintertime.
German and Dutch immigrants brought their traditions of trees and presents to the New World in the early 1800s.
The image of happy middle-class families exchanging gifts around a tree became a powerful one for American authors and civic leaders who wished to replace older, rowdier, and more alcohol-fueled Christmas traditions—such as wassailing—with a more family-friendly holiday. This family-centered image was widely popularized by Clement Moore’s 1822 poem, known today as “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas“. It also helped give us our modern picture of Santa Claus!