As we all know, many of Cincinnati’s early settlers came from Germany. The tradition of German immigrants is vast in southwestern Ohio, and many of our city’s landmarks – including the entire neighborhood of Over-the-Rhine – come directly from that German-American heritage.
What we do NOT often think of is that the tradition of the Christmas tree came from Germany. “O Tannenbaum,” as the old song goes, is indeed in the German language. As operators of a tree service in Cincinnati, this history is an important one to us.
Before the early 19th Century, Christmas trees were really not seen in the United States. Germany had this tradition, but it had not crossed the Atlantic when Cincinnati was founded in the late 1700s.
An immigrant from Baden-Wurttemberg, Dr. Ludwig (Louis) Rehfuss, was a medical doctor who opened a pharmacy in Cincinnati in 1833. Rehfuss was active in the community. He helped found the Deutsche Gesellschaft (German society) for Cincinnati in 1834, and helped launch a German-language newspaper, Cincinnati Volksblatt, two years later.
That first Cincinnati Christmas tree, though, set up and decorated by Dr. Rehfuss and his family, was significant. New England had seen its first Christmas tree in 1832, and it was introduced by Charles Follen, a Harvard professor specializing in the German language.
Dr. Rehfuss’s introductory Tannenbaum tree inspired many others to raise their own trees, in northern Kentucky and southern Ohio. Advent season was soon typified by the presence of these coniferous trees bearing ornaments, and the rest is history.
Our Cincinnati tree service works more on the trees in people’s back yards and front yards than on the displays in living rooms. However, this tree tradition is notable, and it is one that spread rapidly, not just through the Midwest but throughout all of the United States.