Inventing the Christmas Tree

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Bernd Brunner; Translated by Benjamin A. Smith

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A colorfully decorated Christmas tree, lit with twinkling lights, provokes awe and delight. We understand the lighted tree as a central symbol of the Christmas season, but what are the roots of the tradition? Who first thought to bedeck a tree, to bring it inside? How and where did the local activity grow into a widespread tradition, and how has the Christmas tree traveled across time and continents? Bernd Brunner's brief history—enriched by a selection of delightful and unusual historical illustrations—spans many centuries and cultures to illuminate the mysteries of the Christmas tree and its enduring hold on the human imagination.

Tracing various European traditions from the Middle Ages forward, Brunner finds that only in the nineteenth century did Christmas trees become common in European family homes. In North America, the imported custom soon fascinated, though some found the tree not quite compatible with a Puritan mindset. Brunner explores how the Christmas tree entered mainstream American culture and how in recent times it has become globally popular. He introduces Jacqueline Kennedy's Nutcracker Tree in the White House, trees used to celebrate the New Year in Turkey, and the world's most expensive Christmas tree, erected in Abu Dhabi. The author also considers the place of the artificial tree and the ecological dimensions of the Christmas tree trade. A book rich with anecdote and insight, Inventing the Christmas Tree will enchant a wide audience.

Bernd Brunner is a freelance writer who often explores the intersection of cultural history and the history of science in his writings. He divides his time between Istanbul, Turkey, and Berlin, Germany.

“An ideal stocking stuffer.” —Newsday

"This finely illustrated, bibliophile volume all about the ‘discovery’ of the Christmas tree is a wonderful gift idea. Recommended in every regard."—online newsletter of Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland (a confederation of various branches of the Lutheran and Reformed (Calvinist) churches in Germany)

"Packed with marvelous research and intriguing illustrations….After reading this inventive cultural history, you’ll never look at a Christmas tree the same way again."—Julie Salamon, author of The Christmas Tree

"Bernd Brunner offers an engaging meditation on the history, meaning, and multiple ramifications of the familiar Christmas tree, today the most recognizable and popular seasonal visitor in the world."—Kenneth L. Ames, editor of American Christmas Cards 1900-1960

"The most comprehensive, enlightening book on this endearing holiday symbol ever written. Fascinating and beautifully illustrated."—Bob Eckstein, author of The History of the Snowman

"Superb non-fiction books. ... They are archives unto themselves. A repository for dreams, visions, and fears."—Die Zeit

"This engaging and charming little book is a rich potpourri of information across various cultures, times and places."—Richard Ormrod, The Tablet

"Bernd Brunner’s brief history spans many centuries and cultures to illuminate the mysteries of the Christmas tree and its enduring hold on the human imagination. A book rich with anecdote and insight, Inventing the Christmas Tree will enchant a wide audience."—West Country

"This tiny treasure of a book charts the history of the Christmas Tree from the mythical evergreens of Sweden to the $11 million tree erected in an Abu Dhabi hotel lobby in 2010, stopping off at Jackie Kennedy’s Nutcracker tree in the White House on the way."—Crafts Magazine

'We all know that a Christmas tree sparkling with lights fills the mind with a sense of wonder … But how did it all begin and who exactly thought of chopping down a tree and bringing it inside? … Here is a very prettily illustrated book, reasonably-priced, which makes a delightful stocking filler for the great day.' —Richard Edmonds, The Birmingham Post

"[A] beautifully presented little book of cultural history, Inventing the Christmas Tree… cover[s] the subject in fewer than 100 pages but with a wealth of information that will be new to most readers." —Church Times

"Bernd Brunner has written a slender but fascinating book on the Christmas tree, in the manner of his previous studies of bears, the moon and aquaria. In wry tones, applying with cultural and scientific contexts, he lays out the provenance the festive tree and its first appearance…. This book is as eclectic as any Christmas tree… There are enough surprises here to keep anyone entertained on Christmas Eve."—Philip Hoare, The Guardian

"The decorated tree is now a standard part of most Christmas festivities. But where did the tradition originate? And why do we hang baubles and tinsel on a fir brought into our homes? Bernd Brunner, a German writer, has gone in search of some answers in this brief, beautifully illustrated, potted history of the Christmas tree… A charming gift book that should find a place under many a tree this year."—Carl Wilkinson, Financial Times

"A veritable hotchpotch of vignettes, many of them charming and some of them moving."—Ysenda Maxtone Graham, Spectator

‘"What drove people to go off into the forest, chop down a tree, decorate it?" asks Bernd Brunner in his short history of the Christmas tree. He answers with a wide-ranging exploration of the genesis of this symbol of the Christmas season.’ —Juliet Gardiner, History Today

"Brunner is a deft guide… As well as delighting the enthusiast, this attractively produced little book might prove soothing to the less festively inclined as well."—Josh Raymond, Times Literary Supplement

“Mr. Brunner meanders pleasantly through the many manifestations of the tradition over the centuries: trees hung with baked goods and fruits; trees hung with toys and ornaments; grand trees standing in the stately homes of the bourgeoisie; scrubby little pines dangling from the rafters of peasant huts; the Rockefeller Center tree; the Charlie Brown tree.” —Eric Felten, The Wall Street Journal

“A short and entertaining new history.” —Michael Tortorello, The New York Times’ “Home” section

“Full of surprises and telling detail, this readable and appealing short history explores the emergence of the use of the Christmas tree from about 1500 to the present.” —Joe Perry, author of Christmas in Germany: A Cultural History

House Beautiful included the book in its "Best Books of 2012" piece, under the "If You're Feeling Nostalgic" category
ISBN: 9780300186529
Publication Date: November 1, 2012
108 pages, 5 x 7
7 color + 15 b/w illus.

A Brief History

Bernd Brunner; Translated by Lori Lantz

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A Brief History

Bernd Brunner

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