Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas Traditions #3- Christmas Trees

We all have a matter of fact, I have 3 1/2 of them (1/2 because Caitlin has a little bitty 1 foot tall one in her room)...but the question is WHY do we have Christmas trees? There are so many legends surrounding the use of trees at Christmas but this is the way I understand the history of the Christmas tree.

Like many other traditions that we take for granted today, the use of evergreen trees in wintertime decorations is descended from pagan rituals. Pre-Christian groups like the Druids would celebrate the Winter Solstice (our modern-day December 21) with a large evergreen tree at the center of their parties and feasts. By the time December got there, feasts were a bit sparce...not a whole lot of fresh foods. So Winter Solstice feasts included dried meats and fruits. But by honoring the evergreen tree, these pagans acknowledged the fact that better, more bountiful days were coming. Over time, the use of the evergreen drifted from the pagan traditions into the Christian traditions.

By the late 1400's and early 1500's, people in the German states decorated these trees as part of their Christmas celebrations, with one big tree in the center of town. In addition to slices of dried fruits, they would also tie small candles to the outer limbs of the tree. On Christmas Eve, the townspeople would light the candles and then hold hands and dance around the tree. This was to celebrate the fact that Jesus was the light of hope for the world.

When Britain's Queen Victoria married her German cousin, Prince Albert, in the mid-1800's, he brought many German traditions to his new home...including the Christmas tree. Victoria, Albert and their children decorated Christmas trees in the family quarters of their palaces. In addition to the traditional dried fruits, they also put on shiny ornaments and hand-made sugar ornaments. The Christmas tree had also made it to America by that time. German immigrants to the US in the late 1700's were the first to introduce the concept here.

Over time, the candles representing Jesus' light morphed into artificial lights. You can also see religious influence in other typical Christmas ornaments, especially the tree topper. Angels looking down from the top of a Christmas tree represent angels looking down on us from Heaven while a star on the top symbolizes the Star of Bethlehem, shining brightly over Jesus' birthplace.

Take a good look at your Christmas tree and see just how much tradition- religious, historical and family- is there!

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