Day 4: The History of the Christmas Tree.
O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree, how lovely are thy branches!
For thousands of years, the evergreen fir has long been a Yule time symbol of winter festivals both Pagan and Christian. The Pagans would use the evergreen branches to adorn their homes during the winter solstice, as they looked towards Spring to carry them through the darkness. The Romans would use the fir trees to decorate the temples during the festival of Saturnalia. Christians would in turn use them as a sign of their connection of everlasting life with God.
Up until 1100 AD, the custom was to hang your tree upside down from the ceiling. Pretty crazy right?! However, it’s believed that the first Christmas tree may have its origins sometime between the years of 1501 to 1510 when one day in Riga, Latvia, a passing traveller spotted a decorated tree and was mystified.
German theologian Martin Luther is credited with bringing the tree as we know it today into our homes way back in 1535. The tale goes that on a cold Christmas Eve, he was walking through the forest and looked up to a bright and starry sky and mulled over how to capture the beauty of this special night so he could share it with his children. It was then that an image of a tall and shapely evergreen tree decorated with candles appeared in his mind. As he continued his walk, he came across the most splendid tree just like the one he had imagined! Eager to bring joy to the children, he cut it down, carried it home, and decorated it. They were delighted!
Many years later in 1605, an unidentified writer in wrote “ At Christmas, they set up fir- trees in the parlors at Strasburg, and hang thereon roses cut out of many-colored paper, apples, wafers, gold-foil sweet, etc…” Shortly thereafter, in 1610, tinsel, nicknamed “Angel’s hair,” is invented in Germany and quickly becomes a popular tree decoration.
Throughout the years, trees are seen being decorated with everything from toys to sugar sticks bent to look like shepherd’s crooks. In 1841 England, Prince Albert had a tree imported from his native Germany so he could start the custom of having a Christmas tree put up in Windsor Castle for his wife, Queen Victoria, and their children. Theirs was richly decorated with various sweets, nuts, gilded fruits, paper roses, and candles. The idea caught on and soon spread throughout the land and across the ocean to America. During the following centuries, evergreens continued to be a symbol of of the holiday season across all cultures. The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree in NYC, the Trafalgar Square tree in London, England, Galeries Lafayette tree in Paris, France, and the tree standing tall in Vatican City, Italy are just a few of the well-known specimens.
Their hearty branches signify spring and the forthcoming of new life. The shiny lights and flickering candles remind us to remember the hope for a better day and the peace of this joyous season. The Christmas tree continues to be a steadfast image of the festive season with no signs of slowing down. It can brighten the darkest of winters and bring laughter and smiles to many across the world.
Decorating the Christmas tree, wether it be with family or friends, is such a wonderful way to build tradition. Once you’ve selected the best tree on the lot, cut down your own, or pulled the fake one out of storage it’s time to start decorating! Wether you use white lights or multi-colored, tinsel or garland, themed tree or random assortment of ornaments, just make it yours! After you’ve finished, turn off the lights, take a step back, and admire your wonderful creation. Now is the perfect time to grab yourself a cup of hot cocoa and relax into the season of being together with the ones you love.
Nowadays, the time-honored tradition of having a Christmas tree is more popular than ever! You’ll find them in homes, churches, buildings, schools, and town squares. The day they go up is an exciting time. So when you join us on an educational student tour during the holiday season, you’re sure to enjoy seeking out and experiencing the joy and enchantment Christmas trees bring.
After reading this, I hope you have a better understanding of how the Christmas tree came to be. I also hope you’ll look to the Christmas tree as an everlasting symbol of hope, peace, and prosperity in times of darkness.