The Tradition of The Christmas Tree

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When you think of Christmas you automatically think of the Christmas tree, the Christmassy smell that they bring, the presents piled up beneath. It seems second nature to bring a tree into the house and dress it up, but as a child I always remember thinking “what an odd thing to do, have my parents gone made... I like it!” This has lead me to take quite an interest in the tradition and it seems that the Christmas tree is an a new and odd concept at all but in fact predates Christianity and therefore Christmas itself.
Through many ages and many cultures the decorating of a tree tree has played an important role in festivals, holidays, ceremonies and rituals. Pagan festivals decorated trees to honour their gods and are even said to have thought that by making a fuss of the evergreens the dormant deciduous trees would be made jealous and would spring back into life. In Northern Europe the Vikings too considered the evergreen a reminder that winter would come to an end and the trees would spring back into life.

The Roman festival of Saturnalia also carried the custom of decorating trees with candles and trinkets. Christianities links with the Christmas tree is not fully clear but one story says it originates with the story Saint Boniface, an English monk, he was said to have stumbled upon a group of pagans who were gathered around an oak tree preparing to sacrifice a child. To save the child from sacrifice the Saint bashed down the oak tree with one almighty punch. A small fir tree grew in its place, which the Saint told the pagans was the Tree of Life and represented the life of Christ. Another story tells of Martin Luther - who founded the Protestant religion - walking through dark woods late one night. The stars were shining through the branches of the trees giving the impression of twinkling lights. He was said to be so inspired by the beauty of this that he cut down an evergreen and took it home before recreating the twinkling stars by decorating the tree with candles.
The Germans appear to have been the first to bring Christmas trees in doors as a tradition. They too would use evergreens or where there were too fewer evergreens they would create a Christmas pyramid - a wooden structure which was decorated with branches and candles. This tradition of the Christmas tree eventually spread through Europe helped in 1841 by English Royalty when a Christmas tree was first displayed at Windsor Castle. Queen Victoria s husband, Prince Albert, decorated the tree in the usual German way with candles, confectionary, dried fruits, and gingerbread.

Although now in most of European and The United States the Christmas tree is common place it was until the 1800’s considered a bit of an odd concept in both the U.K and the States. German immigrants came to America bringing along their Christmas trees. In the 1830s, this was however seen as a very Pagan thing to do and with religious taboos at the time did not integrate easily into the culture. Of course now every town square and village green, every home and office displays a tree at Christmas and Christmas wouldn’t be the same without that trip to buy a Christmas tree.

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