Anyone living in a country that celebrates Christmas will be familiar with Christmas trees and probably have a family tradition on what kind of tree to use, when it gets set up, and how it is decorated. But, how did the tree become associated with Christmas in the first place? We’ll look a bit into the Christmas tree history here, but first, check out this video about bizarre Christmas traditions that you have probably not heard about. At least, not unless you live in one of these countries. They were all new to me! Yikes!
I must say that I am glad that the Christmas tree has scored so many points over these other traditions… 🙂
Like many other big Christian holidays, Christmas has merged pagan and secular practices into how the birth of Jesus is celebrated. Nobody knows when Jesus was born, but December 25th (in the Gregorian calendar – it’s January 7th in the Julian one, celebrated by Coptic and Orthodox churches) is rooted in several traditions, including pagan celebrations for the Winter Solstice that were already in place. Early Christians often used the same holidays as the pagans did either in protest or maybe to give them something to do during the same time. Learn more here. For Christians, Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus, the “Christ Mass”, but now, all those centuries later, the holiday has been co-opted back by non-Christians. What goes around, comes around, right?
At any rate, Christmas has great importance for our economy and as a time of gathering to celebrate the end of the year, friendships and family. It’s an especially fun time for kids and can get pretty stressful for the rest of us as we try to juggle the extra tasks of decorating, cooking, getting gifts ready, and visiting or hosting guests. For retailers, many of us depend on this time to recover investments made into inventory during the rest of the year and many will get 30%-50% of their yearly sales in the months of November and December. The tree is symbolic of our Christmas traditions as we decorate it with ornaments (see our ornaments feature) and stash our wrapped gifts under it.
Here is a video with a brief history of how the Christmas Tree tradition evolved over time:
This site has a nice overview of how the Christmas tree became important: whychristmas.com
Top Christmas Tree History Highlights:
- The evergreen fir tree has traditionally been used to celebrate winter festivals (pagan and Christian) for thousands of years. Pagans used branches of it to decorate their homes during the winter solstice, as it made them think of the spring to come. The Romans used Fir Trees to decorate their temples at the festival of Saturnalia. Christians use it as a sign of everlasting life with God.
- First Christmas trees showed up around 1000 years ago in Northern Europe.
- The first documented use of a tree at Christmas and New Year celebrations is argued between the cities of Tallinn in Estonia and Riga in Latvia! Both claim that they had the first trees; Tallinn in 1441 and Riga in 1510. Our Wrapture by Inese and Tija Crochet both live in Latvia!!!
- The first first person to bring a Christmas Tree into a house, in the way we know it today, may have been the 16th century German preacher Martin Luther. A story is told that, one night before Christmas, he was walking through the forest and looked up to see the stars shining through the tree branches. It was so beautiful, that he went home and told his children that it reminded him of Jesus, who left the stars of heaven to come to earth at Christmas.
- In Germany, the first Christmas Trees were decorated with edible things, such as gingerbread and gold covered apples. Then glass makers made special small ornaments similar to some of the decorations used today. In 1605 an unknown German wrote: “At Christmas they set up fir trees in the parlours of Strasbourg and hang thereon roses cut out of many-coloured paper, apples, wafers, gold foil, sweets, etc.”
- In Victorian times, the tree would have been decorated with candles to represent stars. In many parts of Europe, candles are still used to decorate Christmas trees. But, many places now have laws enforced prohibiting the use of candles because so many fires resulted from the practice.
- Tinsel started out as real silver strips!
- Artificial Christmas Trees really started becoming popular in the early 20th century. In the Edwardian period Christmas Trees made from colored ostrich feathers were popular at ‘fashionable’ parties.
Read the rest of that post for more details as it is quite interesting!
The most famous Christmas Tree song
That would be “Oh, Tannenbaum” or “Oh, Christmas Tree”, based on a traditional German folk song, written in 1824. (see Wikipedia)
Here’s a classical rendition by the 3 Tenors:
A Jazzy Version: Pete Daily & His Chicagoans
What goes under that tree?
Christmas trees are truly beautiful! BUT….. I think they are also a wasteful resource that has a short life span for such an expense and cost to the environment, especially when you think about how a tree needs seven years to grow before it heads for market. My town picks them up and hauls them off to be chipped and become compost, but there might be some better eco-options to consider. The obvious one, of course, is a fake tree, which can be ok, although some of the pine imitations do look really tacky.
For years, I had an old branch that I found, already dead. I spray painted it and had it up year round, changing the decorations on it. Or, you can buy a smaller tree that is in a pot and can be planted after Christmas is over. Some homes in my neighborhood decorate the trees in their yards, which looks quite beautiful. There are many do-it-yourself ideas online that use very simple materials and can be fun projects.
What about you? Do you have a tree for Christmas? Any traditions you want to share with us? We’d love to hear about the different ways people celebrate this time of the year, so don’t be shy and share it in the comments!
To finish, here is a version of “Oh, Christmas Tree” that is truly silly:
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