Cheryl St.John: Oh, Christmas Tree!

I love this time of year, especially because I love Christmas trees and all the decorations.  I’ve been working on thinning out my storage room, since I had enough ornaments to decorate trees with six different themes.  I used to put up four trees, but we’ve downsized and I have to get my mind around the fact that I need less.


(It’s really difficult to get good photos of Christmas trees without fancy lenses and you have to slow down the shutter speed.  I’m strictly an amatuer, but I gave it my very best shot for you – over two days – trying daylight and dark.  Click on any photo to enlarge and see the ornaments more clearly.  The photos are of my tree.)


Every year since our children were small, we’ve spent an evening driving around and enjoying the lights.  The houses are so lovely.  Some people are extreme in their decorating, but my favorite part is still seeing that lighted tree in the front window.  Over the holidays I usually have a chance to see several of our friends’ homes and trees, and I never get tired of the experience. 


Late in the Middle Ages, Germans and Scandinavians placed evergreen trees inside their homes or just outside their doors to show their hope in the forthcoming spring. Records have it that the first Christmas tree can be traced to France in 1521, though the Germans are most often credited with its origin. (OTannenbaum) The first trees were decorated with apples, nuts, dates, pretzels and paper flowers for the pleasure of the wealthy people’s children.


George Washington didn’t have a Christmas tree. Many colonial religions banned celebrations, claiming that they were tied to pagan traditions. The New England Puritans passed a law that punished anyone who observed the holiday with a five-shilling fine. The Quakers treated Christmas Day as any other day of the year. The Presbyterians didn’t have formal services until they noticed that their members were heading to the English church to attend theirs! This sparked the Presbyterian Church to start their own. It was the Anglicans, Roman Catholics and Lutherans who introduced Christmas celebrations to colonial America. December 25th actually began a season of festivities that lasted until January 6th–the Twelve days of Christmas. January 6th was called Twelfth Day, and colonists found it was the perfect occasion for balls, parties and other festivals.


Some historians trace the lighted Christmas tree to Martin Luther. He attached candles to a small evergreen tree to simulate the reflections of the starlit heavens–the heaven that looked down over Bethlehem on the first Christmas Eve.


In the early 19th century, decorating a tree became popular among the nobility and spread to royal courts as far as Russia. Princess Henrietta of Nassau-Weilburg introduced the Christmas tree to Vienna in 1816, and the custom spread across Austria.


In her journal for Christmas Eve 1832, the delighted 13-year-old princess who later became England’s Queen Victoria wrote, “After dinner…we then went into the drawing-room near the dining room…There were two large round tables on which were placed two trees hung with lights and sugar ornaments, all the presents being placed round the trees.” A young Victoria often visited Germany and most likely picked up the customs she enjoyed. A woodcut of the royal family with their Christmas tree at Osborne House, initially published in the Illustrated London News of December 1848, was copied in the United States at Christmas in 1850. Victoria was very popular with her subjects, and what was done at court immediately became fashionable–not only in Britain, but with the fashion-conscious east coast American society.


A German immigrant living in Ohio was the first to decorate a tree with candy canes. In 1847, Imgard cut a blue spruce tree from a woods outside town, had the Wooster village tinsmith construct a star, and placed the tree in his house, decorating it with paper ornaments and candy canes. The canes were all white with no red stripes.


Ornaments were made by hand during those early years. Young ladies spent hours quilting snowflakes and stars, sewing little pouches for secret gifts and paper baskets with sugared almonds in them. Popcorn and cranberries were strung on thread and draped as garland. Tin was pierced to create lights and lanterns to hold candles, which glowed through the holes. People hunted the general stores for old magazines with pictures, rolls of cotton wool and tinsel, which was occasionally sent from Germany or brought in from the eastern states. Small toys were placed on the branches. Most of the trees at this time were small and sat on a tabletop. They weren’t the six and seven foot trees we think of today when we think of Christmas trees.


The Christmas tree market was born in 1851 when a Catskill farmer by the name of Mark Carr hauled two ox sleds of evergreens into New York City and sold them all. By 1900 one in five American families had a Christmas tree, and twenty years later the custom was nearly universal.


In 1880 England, Christmas trees became a glorious hotchpotch of everything one could cram on and grew to floor-standing trees. They were still a status symbol, the more affluent the family, the larger the tree.


The High Victorian of the 1890’s was a child’s joy to behold! It stood as tall as the room, and was crammed with glitter and tinsel and toys galore. Even the middle classes managed to over decorate their trees. It was a case of anything goes. Everything that could possibly go on a tree went onto it. Kind of like my philosophy: More is more. 


A F.W. Woolworth brought the glass ornament tradition from Germany to the United States in 1890.


I decorated my tree Victorian this year, and it’s all about excess.  My tree turns slowly, so I can sit and watch as all the ornaments come around for viewing.


Do you have memories of Christmas trees from your youth?  Remember tinsel trees, those aluminum lovelies with the turnwheel light that made it change colors?  My grandma had one of those.  I inherited a few of her decorations: A set of cardboard houses crusted with glitter that have tissue paper windows and a set of Santa and reindeer that were among the first products made from plastic.


Her Montana ManIs your tree up yet? Authors and readers have been sending me photos of their trees for The Great Christmas Tree Tour 2008 on my blog From the Heart, and it’s a topic everyone seems to enjoy.


My new release Her Montana Man is in stores now that it’s December, so look for it when you’re shopping.  And buy an extra to put under a special someone’s tree!

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32 thoughts on “Cheryl St.John: Oh, Christmas Tree!”

  1. Cheryl,

    Your tree is gorgeous.

    I tried to do a themed tree, red and gold, a couple of years ago but it didn’t work out so well. Even though I had another tree up which I had all the ornaments from years before, my daughter insisted that her handmade ones went on my themed tree. She was around 6 or 7 and, of course, mommy couldn’t say no. So my beautiful red and gold tree slowly became covered with all the hand-made ornaments and paper cahins I had lovingly put on the other tree. Maybe one day, I can have my themed tree. 🙂

  2. Oh Cheryl! Your tree is beautiful. I love the ornaments and beads.

    Our tree is a 7 1/2 footer. I didn’t realize just HOW big it was until I brought it home a few years ago when my humble tree gave up the ghost.

    We decorate the tree each year with a tradition of getting a new ornament for both the kids and one for me and my husband. We also include ornaments that my stepson had made every year since he’s been in school and this year, I’m sure to be adding more of his and my daughter’s first ornaments she’ll make in kindergarten this year. A lot of my other ornaments have been given to me by my mother, who finds all kinds of wonderful Christmas decorations at fleamarkets and garage sales or after Christmas sales.

    I remember the live trees of my youth. The year we moved into the house my parents still live in- in 1979, my dad went out and got 3 live trees. I remember one lonely one stayed in the basement, but one went into the living room and one in mine and my sister’s room.

    I don’t remember the aluminum trees, but my mom did have the color wheel- when I think of it, it was truly the first “fiberoptic” style of lighting. They use tiny color wheels in most fiberoptic decorations now.

    I would say the best memories I have of Christmas trees over the years, was getting up Christmas morning, long before daylight, long before my parents willingly got out of bed. My sister and I would sneak to the living room, plug in the tree and sit in front of it in awe of the lights and ornaments and whisper/sing Christmas songs while we snooped through our presents until our parents finally got up. The wait was excruciating, but well worth it. 😀

  3. Hello Cheryl, your Christmas tree is wonderful, love this page! Check out my book Mulberry Lane, a little pine tree makes that Christmas season very special and magical for the neighbors of Mulberry Lane! Enjoy your day! Ginny

  4. Cheryl,

    One word — STUNNING. That’s what my kids call a department store tree. My favorite kind. They like the colored lights, tinsel, and all things tacky. Hence the reason we have TWO trees in every year.

    Thanks for this uplifting post.


  5. I’ve been so busy with a new job, snow and everything, that I have not put it up yet, I usually do it the weeekend after Thanksgiving, I hope to do it tonight.

  6. ok so my family and I last year we decided to have a little weird tradition… we decided to keep are christmas tree up all year round… yes that’s what I said all year round… (so we’ve actually had it up for over a year now) and decorate it for every holiday (easter we had plastic eggs all over the tree… thanksgiving we made hand- turkeys from the good ol’ kindergarden days- and put them all over the tree, etc.) So to get to the point are christmas tree is up… but we just haven’t decorated it yet or the rest of the house… we still have yet to pull down the thanksgiving decorations :/ so we are a bit behind… we might do it this weekend though *crosses fingers* i hope…
    By the way… your tree looks awesome Cheryl!

  7. What a gorgeous tree, Cheryl. You are Decorating Woman of superheroine status. My mother had one of those white-flocked metal trees, which she used until she just stopped putting one up. Since I live alone and only see my grandchildren for a couple of hours Christmas day, my decorating is minimal. I have an artificial tree that goes up at the last possible minute. But here’s the different thing. I decorate it with tropical butterflies. It’s pretty, but I do have to watch the cats.

  8. Thank you, Kim. When your kids are small, you have to include all of those special ornaments. I have a box full of those, made by my kids ahd grandkids over the years. In one of these pics, if you enlarge it, you can see there is a popcicle stick ornament with a photo of three of them from last year. Gotta love those reindeer noses and wooly lambs, too–not to mention Shrinky Dinks and glitter!

  9. Taryn, your tree sounds wonderful. And your mom picking up ornaments for you – this is the same lady with the gorgeous tree I posted the other day? You sister posted on my blog!

    You girls were fortunate to have your very own tree in your room. Wow.

  10. Hi Ginny and Dina, thanks for stopping by! Merry Christmas!

    Renee, great idea to have two trees! That way you get the one you enjoy, too.

    When I get a few minutes I’m going to hunt phtos of Christmases past.

  11. Wow, Danielle, that was a fun year of enjoying your tree. My sister- and brother-in-law leave theirs decorated, wrap it in plastic and carry it to the basement that way! LOL Mine would never make it. For one thing it weighs a ton and would never fit down the stairs, and for another I’m convinced the boxes take less room. But I don’t know….

    But now I really want to know: Are you going to take it down after Christmas this year?

    Elizabeth, your buterfly tree sounds great. My friend Sherri’s daughter picked out butterflies for their tree this year.

  12. Cheryl your tree is beautiful, you do such a good job with it. Can’t wait to see all of it, yes it is hard to take a picture that includes all the special things on it and I didn’t do such a good job with my picture but I did try and I wanted one with the lights too but it was so hard.
    Danielle I am with you I would love to have my tree up all year and change it out. We used to go to a little dinner and he was like that he had a tree up year round and would decorate it for the different holiday’s it was very nice he pasted away a few months back. I do keep a small tree up in our bedroom but I don’t change it out it just stays up there I have it on a timer so it is on when I go up at night.
    I love Christmas time because I love to just sit there and stare at the tree lights and dream…

  13. Yep, same lady. :)She’s an avid Christmas person, so she’s always looking for bargains on decorations and she has so much she doesn’t use it all, so sometimes I get oodles of stuff she had left over. I saw where my sister posted to the blog the other day.

    That tree in our room was a first and last for me and my sister. The next year we got an artifical tree. I do have two miniture trees in each of my kids bedrooms though. They just love that.

  14. Brenda, I too, love to light a few candles and the tree and sit in the glow and admire it. What a lovely idea to keep a little tree in your room and have it on a timer. You are one smart Christmas cookie.

    Taryn, you’re great to put little trees in your kids’s rooms. What a mom. Smooches to Shannon and mom.

  15. Oh, Cheryl, what a beautiful tree! Ours isn’t up yet so this blog is getting me inspired to get on the stick. We always get a noble fir but as a child, my parents did have one of those funky aluminum ones with the color wheel.

    Hubby and I felt ancient when we saw one in the exhibit at JFK’s library in Boston that’s full of clothes and artifacts from his era.

    Better memory of childhood: My gramma’s tree was always covered in those perfect, gorgeous German glass ornaments, churches, houses, fruits, birds with feather tails…and she draped the whole thing in “angel hair” which in those days was fiberglass, and did it itch if you touched it! Which of course I always did in spite of warnings.

    Oh, Gram’s trees were totally magic. Thanks for sparking such a wonderful memory, Cheryl.

  16. Tanya, I feel like that when we visit Pioneer Village in Minden, NE. They have rooms set up for all the decades – and have every imaginable item on display. My husband and I see all the things that we had when we were kids.

    Your grandma’s tree sounds perfect. Just the sort I would love.

  17. I love Christmas trees, the smell, the fun of decorating them, the beauty of them after they are all done! 😀

  18. Your tree is absolutely stunning, Cheryl! You should be a professional tree decorater. That tree is worthy of Better Homes and Gardens. That’s no joke.

    I love Christmas trees too, but I don’t put one up. It’s too hard for me to do alone and I can’t get any help lifting the darn thing. My kids and grandkids all live away from here. So I just decorate my house with various things I’ve collected over the years. I love angels and have gotten quite a few of those. They’re special.

    Now, for your book “Her Montana Man”….I tell everyone that they have to read this book. It’s your best one yet. Jonas Black is the perfect hero and I dare anyone not to fall in love with him. He’s so sexy and strong and has a tender spot for children and women down on their luck. And Eliza is the perfect heroine for him. It’s just a really good story! Sigh

    Thanks for a wonderful blog!

  19. Heck, even I get that Cheryl! I used to listen to my mom’s Herman’s Hermits record ALL the time! LOL

    I’m getting ready to call her, so I’ll make sure to tell her! 😀 {{{hugs}}}

  20. Oh I love Christmas trees and ornaments. I’ve been collecting them for 40 years – from the ones my children made to some from my parents and inlaws and from vacations etc. Every year I have a tree trimming party. I have friends and family over and we have a wonderful time and then I make a nice dinner for all their help lol. Oh, and it has to be a live tree.

  21. I love all those things, too, Colleen!

    Thank you, Linda. My trees never looked like this when my kids were little, in fact one year I set my tree up inside the playpen to keep it safe. LOL But I can sure indulge myself now. And I do.

    Wow, I should owe you a commision on all the books you sell for me. Thanks for all the kind words about HMM and for telling all your friends. Soooo glad you enjoyed it.

    AWK! Taryn, you listened to your mom’s Herman’s Hermits records. That’s hilarious. Your mom and I would get along just fine.

    Jeanne – a tree trimming party sounds lovely. And dinner afterward…. Am I invited next year?

  22. Beautiful tree, Cheryl! You did wonderful photography, too. When I clicked on a photo, all the little details showed up. I especially like the pearl strands.

    I got really hungry reading this blog! Must be all the talk of sugared almonds and pretzels!

    My childhood memories of Christmas trees–my dad would always get some scrawny tree off the farm (pine and spruce trees were hard to come by where we lived, so choices were slim and there was no way he was going to buy one). It always looked like a tree Charlie Brown would get, and we always had to hide the flat unsymmetrical part against the wall. LOL! But we always enjoyed it and laughed about it.

  23. Thank you, Kate.

    There’s something endearing about those Charlie Brown trees. I posted about that a week or so ago on my blog. Today I found a pic from 1971 of my mom’s Christmas tree. It’s going up on my blog tonight. There is a Perry Como record album on the end table. LOL

    Wish I had some sugared almonds. Will have to settle for pretzels.

  24. Hi Cher – oh, your trees are wonderful. I love themed trees. Our tree is NOT up yet. Dear hubby got ill after Thanksgiving, and has been sick all week. I thought I was immune, since it’s been a week, but now I’m under the weather. Who knows when we’ll get our tree up? I’ll send pics for your tour asap. Which may be another week!

  25. Your tree is beautiful!
    My tree is up, but I keep it simple. Just small lights and tinsel garland. Less for small grandsons(2 and 3) to get curious about.

  26. Oh, Cheryl, what a beautiful blog you posted today. simply beautiful. I, too, love Christmas trees. I love the smell, the look of them and the decorations.

    I just love Christmas time and all the good will it brings — unfortunately I will be away from home this Christmas, but your blog has brought to mind all the things I so love about Christmas.


  27. Sadly, yes we will be taking it down this year 🙁 I’m the only one who wants to keep it up lol oh well I’ll try it again another time…

    “I love Christmas time because I love to just sit there and stare at the tree lights and dream…”

    me too Brenda!

  28. No, my tree isn’t up yet. I’m going to have to take a look at your tour of trees though sounds interesting. Love the gold and white tree in this post.

    ABreading4fun [at] gmail [dot] com

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