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What is the real history of Christmas tree emergence? And, why a fir tree? The Christmas tree origin is often traced back to a precise event in the beginning of the 8th century A.D. in northern Germany. An early Christian missionary, now referred to as St. Boniface, chopped down an enormous oak tree that was a major place of worship for the then Druid people.
By destroying the tree Boniface hoped to destroy the old religious beliefs, symbolically. The legend goes on to say that after the tree was gone a fir sapling was left (or later emerged, depending on the version of the legend). Boniface believed that this new tree was symbolic of a new beginning and offered it as a symbol of new Christian beliefs. Fir trees then came to be associated with Christian rituals in this part of the world.
The exact history of Christmas trees isn't really clear. There are so many legends, tales, and myths associated with Christmas trees that it's hard to distinguish some truth from the made up stories. There are many stories, however, that are made up for sheer amusement purposes.
Here is one such story: A young woodsman came across a cold and hungry child one Christmas Eve long ago. The woodsman didn't have very much money yet he still offered the child a meal and a place to stay for the night. When woodsman awoke the next morning the child was gone but there was a beautiful, glittering tree in front of his home. The hungry child had been the Christ Child in disguise. Christ created the tree to show his thanks to the woodsman.
Today, the Christmas tree seems to be the emblem that is the most representative of the holiday. It's often said that the history of the Christmas tree stems back to pagan times when evergreens were put in the homes and other places of worship in mid-winter.
Early pre-Christian religions in higher latitudes of Europe always applied great meaning to the comings and goings of the sun and the affect that it has on the world—the production of the seasons (spring, summer, fall and winter). Even though the winter solstice occurs in the cold heart of the winter it symbolizes the return of the sun thus it was a valued event and the cause for much celebration. It also appears to have been the root of modern-day Christmas.
Along with Christmas tree history containing facts, there are also lots of Christmas tree tales that are told simply for entertainment purposes. It has been established that the original Christmas trees were set up in Europe so how did they get to the United States?
A popular fictitious story goes as follows: On Christmas Eve in 1776 George Washington's troops were disheveled, hungry, and freezing; morale was low. They confronted the Hessian troops in Trenton, New Jersey. According to the story, the Hessians had put up an evergreen tree and covered it with lit candles to remind them of their lives back home. While they were busy eating and drinking grog around the tree, however, they left their posts unguarded. George Washington was able to benefit from this situation and turn the tides in the war.
*There is no record of this event—it is only a legend.
The history of Christmas tree is blurry and has many versions. Something quite similar to Christmas tree can actually be traced back to the medieval period. During medieval times, religion was taught through theatre and a play based on Adam and Eve contained a prop that was a decorated fir tree (it was covered with apples were symbolic of the Garden of Eden).
Supposedly, the green of the tree represented immortality while the apples were representative of the fall of Adam. Following the play, many Europeans were fascinated by the trees and decided to set up their own versions. In addition to the apples they added wafers and cookies. These trees really had nothing to do with Christmas but they were definitely an insinuation of things to come.
How did Christmas trees come to be in America? Christmas trees appear to be European in origin, so how did the trend catch on in North America? The beautiful Christmas tree came to be in America through the written word.
People didn't see Christmas trees and become inspired by them, they read about them in books that told the history of the Christmas tree. They were so taken by the history and the descriptions that they decided to set up their own. In the 1800's, reading was an activity enjoyed by the upper middle class so the custom began with the elite; the rank and file wouldn't follow until later. In these days, Christmas trees were probably more of a status symbol.
A popular theory having to do with Christmas tree history is that the first lighted Christmas tree was set up by Martin Luther King. It's said that one cold winter Martin was out walking on Christmas Eve. It was cold and the sky was clear and full of stars. He was taken by the beauty of the evergreens covered with snow so he chopped one down, brought it inside, and decorated it with lit candles. He then told his children that Christ was Light of the World and had lit up the night sky that Christmas Eve.
*There's a certain irony in this theory that discredits it, however, as Martin Luther King is a famed reformer who denounced Christmas.
|Jennifer Mathes, Ph.D.|