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Intrigued by a question from my Hindu neighbor, I decided to find out why we Christians decorate trees at this time of the year.  Naturally, Wikipedia has the most extensive online article on this subject, but I also found a few additional tidbits here.

It seems that the tradition of a holiday tree has been around since ancient times and has played an important part in winter celebrations for many centuries.  Many pagan festivals used trees when honoring their gods and spirits.  The Vikings considered the evergreen a symbol and reminder that the darkness and cold of winter would end and the green of spring would return.  The Druids of ancient England and France decorated oak trees with fruit and candles to honor their gods of harvests.  At the festival Saturnalia the Romans decorated trees with trinkets and candles.

There have also been many legends surrounding the lore of the Christmas tree.  One legend has it that a monk from Devonshire, on missionary work in the Thuringia region of central Germany, used the triangular shape of the fir tree to describe the Holy Trinity of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  The converted people began to revere the fir as God's tree, as they had previously revered the oak.

By the 12th century it was being hung, upside-down, from ceilings at Christmastime in central Europe, as a symbol of Christianity.  In some areas of Germany, evergreen trees were scarce so the families would build a Christmas pyramid, simple wooden structures which they decorated with branches and candles.  The city of Riga in Latvia claims to have had the first decorated tree, in 1510.  In the early 16th century, Martin Luther is said to have decorated a small Christmas Tree with candles, to show his children how the stars twinkled through the dark night.

The tradition of the Christmas tree eventually spread through out Europe.  The English Royalty help popularize the tree in England by decorating the first Christmas tree at Windsor Castle in 1841.  Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria, decorated this tree with candles, candies, fruits, and gingerbread.

When the German immigrants went to American they also brought along their Christmas trees.  In the 1830's most Americans still considered the Christmas tree an oddity.  One of the first public displays of a Christmas tree in America was set up by German settlers in Pennsylvania.  At the time many still considered the tree to be a symbol of pagans and it wasn't until the late 1800's that Americans began accepting the Christmas tree.

Early Christmas trees were often decorated with apples, nuts, cookies, colored popcorn and candles.  The invention of electricity in the early 20th century and use of electrical Christmas lights helped spread the use of the Christmas tree.

Traditionally, Christmas trees were not brought in and decorated until Christmas Eve (24 December), and then removed the day after twelfth night (i.e., 6 January); to have a tree up before or after these dates was even considered bad luck.  Modern commercialisation of Christmas has resulted in trees being put up much earlier; in shops often as early as late October (in the UK, Selfridge's Christmas department is up by early September, complete with Christmas trees).  A common tradition in U.S. homes is to put the tree up right after Thanksgiving (the fourth Thursday in November) and to take it down right after the New Year.  Some households in the U.S. do not put up the tree until the second week of December, and leave it up until the 6th of January (Epiphany).
I tend to put up my Christmas trees sometime between Thanksgiving and my birthday (December 3rd).  I enjoy putting them up and decorating them much more than I do taking them down and packing them up.  Usually, my tree remains decorated until mid- or late January; but I do seem to remember recent years when I was dismantling it either during the Super Bowl or on Valentine's Day!

Well, I found all of this very interesting.  And, as usual, I kept following links to even more outstanding Wikipedia articles.  Check out these two, when you take a break from decorating the tree:
American Christmas traditions
Santa Claus