The History of the Christmas Tree
by CWI volunteer, Victoria Pakizer
The tradition of Christmas trees did not appear suddenly, but rather arrived gradually through a long line of traditions. The ancients hung evergreen boughs over doors and windows. They chose evergreens because they stayed green all year and it reminded them that the sun god would return. Egyptians worshipped the sun god, Ra. The Romans worshiped Saturn, the god of agriculture, and the special plant for the Scandinavian Viking’s sun god, Balder, was… you guessed it… an evergreen.
Germany started the tradition of decorating Christmas trees in the 16th century. Protestant reformer Martin Luther was walking home one night when he saw the stars shining through an evergreen tree. He found the scene so beautiful that he re-created it for his family by placing candles in an evergreen tree. Bet that was a nightmare for Smoky, the Bear, who must have been only a cub at the time.
America didn’t accept the Christmas tree right away. Even as late as the 1840s, many Americans rejected it because of the evergreen’s pagan roots. However, German colonies, such as Pennsylvania, continued the tradition.
The first recorded Christmas tree in public display was in the 1830s, and in 1846, a painting of the beloved Monarchs, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, illustrated by the London News, showed the royal couple standing around a Christmas tree with their children. Their popularity influenced Europeans and Americans alike, who decided they wanted a tree as well.
Americans selected larger trees that stretched from the floor to the ceiling, while Europeans chose smaller trees, about four feet tall.
At first, people used food to decorate trees, such as apple and nut ornaments, and popcorn garlands. Homemade ornaments were also common before Germany introduced ornaments around the 1890’s. When electricity became common in households, people started decorating their trees with Christmas lights, and finally, publicly decorated trees became a tradition.
The Brits and Irish decorate their Christmas trees nearly the same as Americans. In Mexico, a pine tree is usually too expensive, so they use smaller artificial trees, a single branch of a copal tree, or even a shrub. Greenland has to import their trees, and in Guatemala, only children can open presents under the Christmas tree. Adults have to wait until the New Year.
Brazilians use cotton to resemble falling snow on evergreens and Swedes wait to decorate their trees a few days before Christmas. The Christmas tree is fairly new to Norway. The parents decorate the tree and the children wait to see it in full décor. The Spanish use Christmas to turn the tree trunk into a piñata. Children hit it with sticks to discover the hidden candies. They call this celebration Catalonia.
South Africa seldom uses Christmas trees, but they decorate windows with cotton wool and tinsel. Christmas lights are forbidden in Saudi Arabia, but a few rebels decorate trees within the privacy of their homes. The Philippines make their trees out of bamboo sticks covered in colorful paper and tassels. Chinese and Japanese don’t typically celebrate Christmas but on occasion you’ll find trees decorated with paper ornaments and lanterns.
What does all this have to do with writing? I don’t have a clue. Just a few Christmas facts for you to mull over. Maybe you can weave them into a Christmas story.
Creative Writing Institute takes this opportunity to herald the celebration of our King’s birthday with gifts and worship. Pass the gift of kindness on to others. We live in a hurting world.
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