O’ Christmas tree, O’ Christmas tree where did the tradition come from? See song lyrics. The vast majority of American homes will have a Christmas tree this year. The funny thing is, the actual origins of the tree itself is somewhat murky.
The Egyptians used evergreens to decorate their houses during the winter solstice. For them and many other civilizations, evergreens like pines and mistletoe represented life’s triumph over death. The Romans used evergreens to celebrate the feast of Saturnalia (in December) and decorated them with metal. Likewise the Druids used evergreens clippings. None of the ‘pagan’ cultures cut down the whole tree as it would have been destructive. Read more
The Early Christian churches hated the Christmas tree (and some still do today). But legend has it that in Germany Saint Boniface came across a group of people worshipping an oak tree. In a rage, he cut the tree down but from its roots sprang a fir tree. It wasn’t until the 16th Century that the trees were actually brought indoors. Read More
Of course, this isn’t the only legend that traces the tree’s Germanic origins to the 1500s. Some say that Martin Luther cut down a fir tree, brought it inside and decorated it with lights (to mimic the heavens) in order to teach his children the story of Christ’s birth. These early trees were decorated with gold, Communion wafers, foil, apples, dolls and sweets. Read More
Most scholars agree that it is German immigrants that brought the tree to the American Colonies. Some believe that it occurred in the 1600s; others that the Hessian soldiers brought it to the US during the Revolutionary War. The practice did not spread across the US until the 1850’s, coinciding with the first commercial Christmas trees for sale in 1851. Oddly enough, commercial tree lots themselves didn’t start until the depression (1930’s).
Back to the trees origins.
And last but not least is an obscure legend that associates the Christmas tree as being a derivation of the Paradise trees used in the ‘mystery plays’ or ‘Paradise plays’. Dating from the 11th Century, these plays depicted the story of Adam and Eve, their sin and their banishment from Paradise. The tree was the only prop on the stage and it was decorated with apples–ie the fruit of sin, but the tree stood for life (Peter refers to the Jesus being crucified on a tree). However, the church forbad these plays during the 15th century. But the people would not be denied and on December 24th (the feast of Adam and Eve), they would set up their own trees in their houses and decorate it with apples (sin) and homemade wafers (life). Read More
Now, I’m off to buy my Christmas tree!