The First Record of Christmas Trees in Bethlehem
So many of our Christmas traditions come from different cultures and different ages. One of the most familiar symbols is the Christmas tree; during the pre-Christian era, the evergreen tree was a symbol that spring would come once again. For Christians, it was a symbol of everlasting life. Today’s Christmas trees evolved from a northern European tradition in the 1500s. In 1841, Prince Albert whose family came from Germany and who was the husband of Queen Victoria, introduced this practice in England.
The first documented Christmas tree in the American Colonies was actually right here in Bethlehem – in the 1741 Gemeinhaus, a National Historic Landmark and home to the Moravian Museum. According to the Moravian Archives in the Bethlehem diary, there is the following passage: “Early in the morning [of Christmas day 1748] the children had a sweet holiday joy. Their teachers had made several pyramids for them …”Pyramids are made of wood in the shape of an evergreen tree to which evergreen branches would be attached. Then the tree would be decorated. On that Christmas morning of 1748 in Bethlehem, the pyramid trees were decorated with apples, candles, and hymn verses.
Today, visitors to the Moravian Museum can see replicas of those original pyramid trees in the Saal (hall), the first place of worship in Bethlehem as part of the holiday decorations throughout the museums of Historic Bethlehem Museums & Sites [HBMS]. These replicas are only some of over 20 Christmas Trees decorated every year across multiple HBMS historic sites by the Bethlehem Garden Club.
Trees of Historic Bethlehem has become one of Bethlehem’s newest traditions, getting its start in 2012 as a solo-display of these Moravian pyramid tree replicas within the Moravian Museum. Visitors so delighted in experiencing this unique display that, the following year it was expanded across more historic sites.
Each year the trees are decorated with a theme in mind, like the Essence of the Holidays in 2013, Trees of Christmas Past in 2014, Trees of Many Colors in 2015, Christmas Carols in 2016, and Gilded Trees from Around the World in 2017.
Now in its 6th year, Trees of Historic Bethlehem can be viewed within the Kemerer Museum of Decorative Arts, the Moravian Museum of Bethlehem, the 1810 Goundie House, and the Single Sisters’ House. This year visitors can explore a world of beautiful artistry with Christmas Trees Inspired by Historic Art. Each tree is paired with a piece of artwork from the HBMS collection like a painting, drawing, sculpture, or tapestry. The decorations draw from the artwork’s color, theme, time period, and appearance, making each tree a wondrous sight to see.
We hope you will stop by to see our beautiful trees this year. Tickets are available at any of our sites or online at www.HistoricBethlehem.org.