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The First Christmas Tree

(Taken from an article in the Leader Paper April 16 1940)


Frank Prufer and Caroline Fielding were married in New York city on July 31, 1853 and journeyed to Staunton in the fall of that same year.  In the fall of 1855, they decided to have a Christmas Tree.  Many hours were spent weeks before time in preparing the decorations.  Everything had to be home-made.  There were no ornaments to be bought because there were none to buy.  They were not even made then.

            A great contrast could be seen in the Christmas tree of today and the one of 1855.  All that is wanted and needed for a tree today may be bought at one store.  The decorations for the tree of 1855 were nothing like those of today.  First, a miniature Church was made out of cardboard about 12 inches high, fourteen inches wide and eighteen inches long and was papered dark gray on the outside.  It was an exact duplicate of the old Baptist Church on the corner of Washington and Main Streets.

            A tower about twelve inches high rose above this tiny church imitating the former Central Lutheran Church (now Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church) tower which was on the corner of Main St. and Central Ave. (formally Water St.)  In the tower was placed a real clock that was kept running during the holidays. In the tower, a small brass bell was suspended on a wooden frame.  It was rung as many church bells of that day – by pulling a rope, this tiny one was a string.

            The inside of the church was modeled according to the churches of that time.  Tiny pews made of cardboard and cushioned with velvet filled the church.  The congregation was seated in the usual custom of 1855, the women on the right, while the men were on the left.  Small dolls dressed in the latest styles represented each.

            The minister, the only article bought ready made, was of paper mache, painted to represent a German Monk.  His head was so adjusted that when he was shaken, it would bob up and down.  His breast opened as two doors and inside could be seen painted the truly representation of a pulpit.  The dome of the church was a light blue resembling the heavens.  On the altar was a row of little blue and lavender candles in the midst of which stood a crucifix.

            Around the church yard ran a small paling fence mad of cardboard and papered dark green.  In the yard behind the church stood this first Christmas tree (in Staunton) about five feet tall.  The church yard and tree were placed on a platform about two feet high.  These simple decorations were placed on the tree:  walnuts covered with real gold leaf and silver leaf, designs of many shapes including stars of all sizes cut out of pasteboard and covered with gold and silver paper, molasses cakes, sugar cakes and ginger cakes with holes in the middle were also hung on the tree.

            Everything was suspended by strings.  Strips of colored paper were cut, made into links about one and one-half inches in length and joined into chains.  Hand-made candle sticks were also used made from umbrella ribs, bent twice in order to hang them over the limbs of the tree.  Candles, mounted at home were stuck on the top end of the umbrella rib while an apple was stuck on the lower end to balance it.  People imagined colored candles in those days along with many other things.

            According to German custom, this tree was trimmed and lighted for Christmas eve.  This was Staunton’s first Christmas tree, Augusta County’s first Christmas tree and in fact the first one in this section of Virginia.  Many Staunton people went to see it.  By 1867 and 1868 the family naturally made them more beautiful and elaborate.  Consequently, people from all over Augusta County came then.  Some of the older Staunton people remember going to see these later trees.

            One of the privileges of the Mary Baldwin girls of those days, also of girls of the Methodist School and the Episcopal School (now Stuart Hall) was going every year to see these Christmas trees.

Back to In The Beginning

The first Christmas tree in Staunton, August County and the area was in the church lawn of Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church.