Traditions of Christmas: The Christmas Tree

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Each Wednesday during the Christmas season we are going to take a look at the  origins of some of our Christmas traditions.

Saint Boniface may have began the Christmas tree tradition
Saint Boniface may have began the Christmas tree tradition

The Christmas Tree was originally a pagan symbol of fertility and regeneration.  The evergreen was a symbol to the Vikings that the cold and darkness of winter would soon end and the greenery of winter would soon return.

There are many legends concerning the Christmas Tree.  Following are two of those legends.  There have also been many legends surrounding the lore of the Christmas tree.

In one story Saint Boniface, a monk in Devonshire, England, that established Christian Churches all over Europe in the 7th Century, came upon a group of pagans who had gathered around an oak tree and were preparing to sacrifice a child. To stop the sacrifice and save the child, the Saint flattened the oak tree with one blow of his fist. A small fir sprang up in its place, which Saint Boniface told the pagans was the Tree of Life and represented the life of Christ.

Other legends credit Martin Luther
Other legends credit Martin Luther

Another legend tells of Martin Luther, the founder of the Protestant religion, walking through the woods late one night. As it was clear, many stars were shining through the branches of the trees giving the impression of twinkling lights. Luther was so inspired by the beauty of the sight that he cut down a small evergreen and brought it home. He recreated the stars by putting candles on the tree’s branches.

Prince Albert brought the Christmas tree to England
Prince Albert brought the Christmas tree to England

Gradually the tradition of the Christmas tree spread throughout Europe.  Those families that could not afford a tree would build a pyramid with wooden structures that they decorated with branches and candles.

The tree came to Britain in 1841 when English Royalty decorated the tree at Windsor Castle.  Apples, cakes and candles were used to decorate the tree.

Christmas ornaments and themes are popular today
Christmas ornaments and themes are popular today

A German Company called Lauscha manufactured the first glass ornaments in 1850.  It was 20-30 years later before these decorations reached Britain and America.  The Christmas tree is now readily accepted throughout Europe and there are many public displays of these trees for the public in America.

President Coolidge lighting the first White House Christmas tree. Notice the candles use to light the tree.
President Coolidge lighting the first White House Christmas tree. Notice the candles use to light the tree.

Often trees are decorated in America with a specific theme in mind.  Some places even have a festival of tree, where each tree has it’s own theme.

Martin Luther is believed to be the first to put Lights on a tree.  He used candles to light the tree, held by candleholders attached to the tree.  Luther had seen the way the stars glowed around the trees outside and wanted to find a way to duplicate

it.  He taught his children that it meant the light that Jesus brought into the world.

A wealthy couple named Edison, in New York, began using lights and President Cleveland became one of the first people to implement lights during the Christmas season.  From this the idea soon caught on.  GE and Westinghouse introduced these Christmas lights in 1924.

President Coolidge started the Christmas tree lighting at the White House tradition in 1923.