History, Origin, Legend & Decoration of the Christmas Tree

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The Origin :

Germany is credited with starting the Christmas tree tradition in the 16th century when devout Christians brought decorated trees into their homes. Some built 'Christmas pyramids' of wood and decorated them with evergreens. Candles were used if wood was scarce.
The custom of Christmas tree gradually became popular in other parts of Europe. In England Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria made Christmas trees fashionable by decorating the first English Christmas tree at Windsor castle with candles and a variety of sweets, fruits and gingerbread, back in 1841. Of course, soon other wealthy English families followed suit, using all kinds of extravagant items as decorations. Charles Dickens described such a tree as being covered with dolls, miniature furniture, tiny musical instruments, costume jewelry, toy guns and swords, fruit and candy, in the 1850s.

Most of the 19th century Americans found Christmas trees an oddity. The first record of one being on display was in the 1830s by the German settlers of Pennsylvania. They put one on show to raise money for a local church. In 1851 a tree was set up outside of a church. The people of the parish thought it such an outrage and a return to paganism and asked the minister to take it down.

By the 1890s Christmas ornaments were arriving from Germany and Christmas tree popularity was on the rise around the U.S. It was noted that Europeans used small trees about four feet in height, while Americans liked their Christmas to reach from floor to ceiling. 

The early 20th century saw Americans decorating their trees mainly with homemade ornaments, while the German-American sect continued to use apples, nuts, and marzipan cookies. Popcorn joined in after being dyed bright colors and interlaced with berries and nuts.

Electricity helped introduce Christmas lights that made it possible for Christmas trees to glow for days on end. With this, Christmas trees began to appear in town squares across the country. All important buildings, private and public, signaled the beginning of the Christmas holiday with the tree ceremony.

Early Christmas trees had, in place of angels, figures of fairies - the good spirits, though horns and bells were once used to frighten off evil spirits.
In Poland, Christmas trees used to be decked with angels, peacocks and other birds as well as many, many stars. In Sweden, trees are decorated with brightly painted wooden ornaments and straw figures of animals and children. In Denmark, tiny Danish flags along with mobiles of bells stars, snowflakes and hearts are hung on Christmas trees. Japanese Christians prefer tiny fans and paper lanterns. Lithuanians cover their trees with straw bird cages, stars, and geometric shapes. The straw sends a wish for good crops in the coming year. Czechoslovakian trees display ornaments made from painted egg shells.

A Ukrainian Christmas tree has a spider and web for good luck. Legend has it that a poor woman with nothing to put on her children's tree woke on Christmas morning to find the branches covered with spider webs turned to silver by the rising sun. Nice story, isn't it?

Legends of the Christmas Tree :

Many legends exist about the origin of the Christmas tree. One is the story of Saint Boniface, an English monk who organized the Christian Church in France and Germany. One day, as he traveled about, he came upon a group of pagans gathered around a great oak tree about to sacrifice a child to the god Thor. To stop the sacrifice and save the child's life Boniface felled the tree with one mighty blow of his fist. In its place grew a small fir tree. The saint told the pagan worshipers that the tiny fir was the Tree of Life and stood the eternal life of Christ.

Another legend holds that Martin Luther, a founder of the Protestant faith, was walking through the forest one Christmas Eve. As he walked he was awed by the beauty of millions of stars glimmering through the branches of the evergreen trees. So taken was he by this beautiful sight that he cut a small tree and took it home to his family. To recreate that same starlight beauty he saw in the wood, he placed candles on all its branches.
Yet another legend tells of a poor woodsman who long ago met a lost and hungry child on Christmas Eve. Though very poor himself, the woodsman gave the child food and shelter for the night. The woodsman woke the next morning to find a beautiful glittering tree outside his door. The hungry child was really the Christ Child in disguise. He created the tree to reward the good man for his charity.

Others feel the origin of the Christmas tree may be the "Paradise Play." In medieval times most people could not read and plays were used to teach the lessons of the bible all over Europe. The Paradise Play, which showed the creation of man and the fall of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden was performed every year on December 24th. The play was performed in winter creating a slight problem. An apple tree was needed but apple trees do not bare fruit in winter so a substitution was made. Evergreens were hung with apples and used instead.

Another story comes from Germany about spiders and Christmas trees. Long ago families allowed their animals to come inside and view the Christmas trees on Christmas Eve. Because the Christ Child was born in a stable, they felt that the animals should take part in the Christmas celebration. But spiders weren’t allowed because housewives didn't want cobwebs all over everything. of course the spiders were unhappy about this, so one year they complained to the Christ Child. He felt sorry for them and decided that late at night He would let them in to see the trees. The excited spiders loved the Christmas trees and all night long they crawled about in the branches, leaving them covered with webs. On Christmas morning the housewives saw what the spiders had done. But instead of being angry, they were delighted. For in the night the Christ Child had turned all of the cobwebs into sparkling tinsel. And even today, tinsel is often used to decorate Christmas trees to add that same sparkle the Christ Child gave the cobwebs long ago, in Germany.

Decorating the Christmas Tree: A Timeless Tradition©

Enter any department store from now until New Year's and aisles packed with plastic ornaments, glistening garland, and blinking lights will greet you at every turn. It was once a fairly simple family tradition. But now it has evolved into a multimillion-dollar industry with decorations becoming more elaborate and expensive each year. Where did this tradition begin and how did it become such an integral part of the holiday festivities?
Like the majority of practices associated with Christmas, the tradition arose from the intermingling of ancient Roman beliefs and the spreading Christian religion. Early Christians believed certain trees flowered unseasonably on Christmas Eve as homage to Jesus' birth. This belief combined with the Roman practice of decorating their homes with greenery for the New Year formed the basis of our modern fascination with icicles and fancy angel tree toppers.

The decorating of various structures and trees has been recorded in Europe from the 17th century onwards, but the first written account of a "Christmas tree" did not appear until 1605. According to John Matthew's The Winter Solstice, an anonymous German citizen that year recorded trees being decorated with "roses cut out of many colored paper, apples, wafers, gold-foil, [and] sweets". What about chaser lights and oodles of wrapped gifts? It was more than 100 years later when Professor Karl Gottfried Kissling of the University of Wittenburg wrote of people adding candles for decorations and placing children's wrapped gifts around the bottom of the small indoor trees.

Even though the practice was initially condemned by religious leaders, it spread from Germany to Finland through Norway and Denmark. In 1840, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert of England endorsed the tradition by displaying their own ornately decorated tree at their palace. By the early 1900s, decorating the tree was as much a part of Christmas as Santa Claus and opening presents.

Of course, the early trees were decorated differently than today's evergreens. Early ornaments were usually hand-crafted or edible. Nuts, candies, fruits, and pieces of colored paper were the most common. The average modern tree is decorated with a combination of store-bought ornaments and family memorabilia with several strings of lights strewn over the branches instead of candles, but no matter how the tree is decorated it still symbolizes a timeless Christmas tradition of families gathered together exchanging presents and love.
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