American Antiquarian 
Society logoAAS Online 





The exact origins of the Christmas tree are unknown, but it became very common in America in the early nineteenth century. The first image of a Christmas tree was published in 1836 as the frontispiece to The Stranger's Gift by Herman Bokum. The first mention of the Christmas tree in American literature was in a story in the 1836 edition of The Token and Atlantic Souvenir, titled "New Year's Day," by Catherine Maria Sedgwick, where she tells the story of a German maid decorating her mistress's tree. Click to enlarge.


German settlers are believed to have been among the first to have Christmas trees in American homes. During the first half of the nineteenth century, the practice of having a tree as a symbol of Christmas celebration was not widely embraced by Americans because of its roots in paganism. This image, illustrated by Winslow Homer, is titled "The Christmas-Tree." It appeared in Harper's Weekly, December 25, 1858. Click to enlarge.





The Christmas tree made its first appearance in a woman's magazine, Godey's Lady's Book, in 1850. The image was an Americanized version of a very popular image of Queen Victoria and her family from the Illustrated London News. America's fondness for Queen Victoria helped popularize the idea of having a Christmas tree inside the home. Click to enlarge.


The Christmas tree became more accepted and popular throughout the second half of the nineteenth century. Americans added more homemade and store bought ornaments, and began to prefer much larger trees that stood on the floor, moving away from the table top trees that were popular in Europe. President Franklin Pierce was the first to bring a Christmas tree into the White House in 1856. This illustration by F.A. Chapman, titled "The Christmas Tree," is from the 1866 edition of Christmas Poems and Pictures. Click to enlarge.



American Antiquarian 
Society logo

This site and all contents © 2004 American Antiquarian Society

Last updated December 9, 2004

Valid HTML 4.01!