Wednesday, October 1, 2014

How The Christmas Tree Got Started

A long time before the Christians decided to use Christmas as the birthday of Jesus, the plants and trees that stayed green the whole year long held a special meaning for the people in the dark winter months. And just like people today decorate their homes in the winter with spruce, pine and fir trees the people of ancient times hung boughs and wreaths over their doors and windows. Many cultures believed that the evergreens would ward away ghosts, evil spirits, witches and disease.

The longest night and shortest day of the year, in the Northern hemisphere, happens on December twenty first (or the 22nd) and is known as the winter solstice. The people of ancient times believed that in a sun god, Ra, in Egypt, but by other names in other cultures. The common belief was that every year the sun god became sick and weak, and that by celebrating during this time they could help the sun god to get well again. The evergreen plants reminded them that all of the plants would grow again as summer returned.

The ancient Egyptians worshipped a god called Ra, who had the head of a hawk and wore the sun as a blazing disk in his crown. At the solstice, when Ra began to recover from the illness, the Egyptians filled their homes with green palm rushes which symbolized for them the triumph of life over death.
Early Romans marked the solstice with a feast called the Saturnalia in honor of Saturn, the god of agriculture. The Romans knew that the solstice meant that soon farms and orchards would be green and fruitful. To mark the occasion, they decorated their homes and temples with evergreen boughs. In Northern Europe the mysterious Druids, the priests of the ancient Celts, also decorated their temples with evergreen boughs as a symbol of everlasting life. The fierce Vikings in Scandinavia thought that evergreens were the special plant of the sun god, Balder.
It is Germany that is given credit for starting the Christmas tree tradition as we know it. During the 16th century dedicated  Christians would bring trees into their homes and decorate them.
Martin Luther is thought to have added lighted candles to the tree reminiscent of the stars twinkling through the evergreens.

Christmas in America was illegal until the 19th Century. Only becoming legal to observe in all of the states in 1903. The first Christmas trees in America were put on display by German settlers in Pennsylvania. Most American settlers thought that the trees were pagan symbols and were rejected as idolatry. Even later preachers such as Spurgeon preached against the practice of celebrating Christmas.

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 trees 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 brought about Christmas lights, making it possible for Christmas trees to glow for days on end. With this, Christmas trees began to appear in town squares across the country and having a Christmas tree in the home became an American tradition.
Today we have many choices for decorating our Christmas trees as the holiday has changed over the years and its acceptance into the main culture of America has grown.


Post a Comment