Conifer Wood Makes You Feel Good — Christmas Trees in Germany and the U.S.

By Veronika Heinrich

Pho­to Cred­it: “Christ­mas Pyra­mid Nativ­i­ty Scene” by Kitsuta


O Christ­mas Tree, O Christ­mas Tree,

Your boughs can teach a lesson

That con­stant faith and hope sublime

Lend strength and com­fort through all time.

O Christ­mas Tree, O Christ­mas Tree,

Your boughs can teach a lesson.



When I was a child, Christ­mas meant presents. It also meant going to our small town Christ­mas mar­ket. There, we board­ed a tiny train to take us for rides around the church. San­ta then showed up and gave us choco­late San­tas, deep-fried pas­tries, and gin­ger­bread – any­thing sweet a child’s heart could wish for. Of course, there was also a beau­ti­ful Christ­mas tree. How­ev­er, we had some­thing that made my Christ­mas expe­ri­ence tru­ly dif­fer­ent from that of most chil­dren in the Unit­ed States – a Christ­mas pyramid.

These Christ­mas pyra­mids came – just like my grand­fa­ther – from the Ore Moun­tains, locat­ed at the Ger­man and Czecho­slo­va­kian bor­der. They are made of wood and con­sist of sev­er­al tiers adorned with tiny fig­ures. On top of the pyra­mid, the rotor blades cir­cu­late when you light the can­dles below.  

Until the mid­dle of the 19th cen­tu­ry, gigan­tic pyra­mids were found in church­es where they were dec­o­rat­ed with branch­es of fir trees and lots of can­dles. Before peo­ple even had Christ­mas trees at home in this region, they already had these pyra­mids. As time went on, how­ev­er, they were replaced with the Christ­mas trees we know today.

When you think about Christ­mas, along with San­ta Claus, the Christ­mas tree is most like­ly the first thing that comes to mind. When you watch a Christ­mas movie, there’s the oblig­a­tory Christ­mas tree the fam­i­ly gath­ers around. When you look for videos on YouTube, you see cats attract­ed by its shini­ness and mis­lead by their will of destruc­tion. And, of course, most of us will know the stun­ning Christ­mas tree on Times Square in New York City.  

Despite all the Christ­mas-themed movies made in Hol­ly­wood, there haven’t always been Christ­mas trees in the U.S. It’s one of many sto­ries that speaks of the var­i­ous con­nec­tions between the U.S. and Ger­many, as Christ­mas trees weren’t real­ly known in the U.S. until Ger­man immi­grants brought them over at the begin­ning of the 19th cen­tu­ry. Mod­ern-day Christ­mas trees orig­i­nat­ed in Ger­many in the 16th cen­tu­ry.  

The ear­ly Ger­man Christ­mas trees, how­ev­er, were found in guild-hous­es so that the chil­dren of guild mem­bers could take apples, nuts, dates, and pret­zels as a reward for their church ser­vice on Christ­mas Day. Decades lat­er, wealthy Protes­tants, who didn’t want to use the Catholic nativ­i­ty scenes any­more, start­ed to bring Christ­mas trees into their homes. And thus began the tra­di­tion of putting up Christ­mas trees. With wealth ris­ing in the West­ern world, more and more fam­i­lies were able to afford a tree, and many of the oth­er tra­di­tions – like the Christ­mas pyra­mid – were pushed aside. 

Yet, they still exist, and my fam­i­ly and I will put up both: a Christ­mas tree and my grandfather’s Christ­mas pyra­mid. Actu­al­ly, these have made quite a strong come­back, and if you wish, you can still buy them today.  

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Veroni­ka M. Hein­rich is a stu­dent of cul­tur­al stud­ies at Leuphana Uni­ver­si­ty Lüneb­urg where she main­ly focus­es on the inter­sec­tions between media and soci­ety. In her free time, she likes to get cre­ative and work on her new adult roman­ta­sy nov­els. Apart from that, fic­tion of all sorts keeps her sane when real­i­ty becomes too much.