Christmas Lore: The Christmas Tree

Good morning!

I spent some time reading up on the history of the Christmas tree this morning while I drank my tea. My friend Jeff and I are putting together our Christmas carols program and adding new material for this year's presentations. I always enjoy the research as we prepare the songs and stories each year.

The tree is another example of the blending of earlier pagan beliefs with the symbols and beliefs of Christianity as this "new" religion. Mistletoe, holly, a Solstice/winter celebration, the Yule log and many other aspects of earlier traditions found their way into the rituals associated with the celebration of Christ's birth. Early missionaries often found ways to link the old ways to their teachings.

The legend of Saint Boniface is one good example. According to the story, Boniface came upon a group of pagans preparing a human sacrifice at their sacred oak, called Donar's Oak. Boniface took an axe and struck a blow at the tree, which immediately fell. He then pointed to an evergreen as a symbol of the everlasting life promised by the religion he brought to them.

From The Christmas Tree by Daniel J. Foley,
Chilton Company Book Division, NY: 1960.
The custom of a decorated and lighted evergreen began in Germany, beginning with a pyramid made of wood and lighted with candles and decorated. Since it was also the custom to bring a small evergreen inside for greenery in the winter months, it's not difficult to see how the lights and decorations moved from thelichshtock to the evergreen (usually a fir). The idea did not reach American shores until the Victorian era, making its way from Germany to England first. In many instances, the greenery was simply an evergreen bough places on a table and decorated.

My 2014 tree
Some years I have a real tree, others years we have an artificial tree, but always I bring in live greenery to decorate my house, continuing the old tradition of "bringing in Christmas."

My 2011 tree
There is nothing like the scent of pine to make me feel the season is truly here. I won't do it just yet, though, because the greens will dry out, and it's still too soon to be decorating in my opinion. I prefer to wait until we've enjoyed Thanksgiving, and then move gradually into the next season. But working on the carols program puts me in the holiday mood, and makes me look forward to the pleasures on the way.