Holiday Traditions: From Germany to German Street

The Christmas Tree

Shepherdstown kicked off the holiday season on November 25 with the lighting of the tree in front of McMurran Hall.

While Mrs. Claus, the Grinch and Santa on a firetruck are more recent additions to Shepherdstown’s public holiday events, the town tree has been a Christmas tradition since 1921 when the Shepherdstown Register reported that:

A handsome cedar tree some forty feet in height was cut from the cliffs north of town…. When the tree was lighted up Christmas Eve, everybody pronounced it beautiful. Electric lights of various colors were shining brightly in the foliage, and reflections from the ornaments added to its brilliancy. Above the tree a golden star cast a mellow glow and was significantly beautiful.

christmas_treeThe story of the Christmas tree goes back to 17th century Germany where the first Christmas trees were decorated with edible things, such as gingerbread and gold covered apples. Then glass makers made special small ornaments similar to some of the decorations used today. Several cities in the United States with German connections lay claim to our country’s first Christmas tree: Windsor Locks, Connecticut, claims that a Hessian soldier put up a Christmas tree in 1777 while imprisoned there during the Revolutionary War. But the first documented use of the Christmas tree took place in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in 1821.

entler_tree_2016The large number of German settlers in Shepherdstown brought their traditions with them and likely decorated fir trees at Christmas time.  The Entlers may have had a tree, not unlike the tree at the Historic Shepherdstown Museum, decorated with candles, straw ornaments and glass balls.

Special holiday events are scheduled for every weekend between Thanksgiving and Christmas in Shepherdstown.  Visit the Historic Shepherdstown Museum which is open every weekend during the Christmas season.