When Rochester saw its first Christmas tree

The first Christmas tree in Rochester

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More than 180 years ago, Rochesterians witnessed a new holiday custom for the first time: the first Christmas tree in the Flower City.

The city only had around 20,000 people living in it at the time — but everyone was invited to come and see the tree on Christmas Day at what was Zion Lutheran Church on Grove Street.

It was a spruce tree around 12 feet tall, decorated with a variety of toys and “sweetmeats.”

The custom was brought to Rochester by a group of German immigrants, and News10NBC had the chance to hear from someone keeping the tradition alive, at the Ellwanger Estate bed and breakfast.

“The Christmas tree brought more than religion … it brought a sense of community and family, joy for children. It was something that transformed a very religious celebration into more of a family focused celebration,” said Rosemary Janofsky, owner and innkeeper at the Ellwanger Estate.

A 10-foot Nordmann pine is decorated in celebration of the tradition at Ellwanger Estate.

The holiday tradition was first recorded to be used by German Lutherans in the 16th century, in the cathedral of Strasbourg in 1539. It was decorated with just lit candles.

Later on, it became tradition in Germany to bring decorated trees into the home if wood was scarce. Families would also build Christmas pyramids decorated with evergreens and candles.