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Neyfakh reveals that public Christmas trees were first introduced as an American tradition due to a "secretive coalition of Progressive-era social reformers. These civic-minded idealists tried to recast Christmas as an essentially public holiday that could unite people of different ethnicities and social classes behind a single shared tradition."
The rise in new industries and advances and technology brought millions of European immigrants to America in the early 1900s. As cities became more diverse and overpopulated, "social reformers began to fear that the American people were becoming atomized and rootless. They worried that new immigrants would never start feeling at home here, and instead remain isolated in their ethnic enclaves. They worried the poor would be ignored and trampled upon. Looking out at a nation in crisis, the Progressives saw Christmas trees as an opportunity to intervene."
In modern times, it is easy for people to view religious holidays and practices such as the civic Christmas tree as merely exclusionary, and not as as "a catalyst of civic unity, an inclusive gesture that in its time had less to do with expressing a faith than in fostering an idealized vision of American society."