Why do we have Christmas Trees?
Many years ago, plants and trees that stayed green all year had a special meaning for people in the wintertime. Just as people decorate their homes during the festive season with pine, spruce, and fir trees, in earlier times, peoples hung evergreen boughs over their doors and windows. In many countries it was believed that evergreens would keep away witches, ghosts, evil spirits, and illness!
The shortest day and longest night of the year falls on December 21 or December 22 and is called winter solstice. Many people believed that the sun was a god and that winter came every year because the sun god had become sick and weak. They celebrated the solstice because it meant that the sun god would begin to get well. Evergreen boughs reminded them of all the green plants that would grow again when the sun god was strong and summer would return.
It is believed that Germany started the Christmas tree tradition by bringing decorated trees into their homes. Some built Christmas pyramids of wood and decorated them with evergreens and candles. Lighted candles, we believe, were added to the tree to remind children of the stars of the night sky twinkling through the trees.
Using candles was a great fire hazard, and were gradually replaced with colored electrical bulbs. I’m sure that anyone over 30 can remember the old strings of lights where the entire string would go dark if ONE bulb were to burn out! The trend now is the latest LED lights as they use less electricity and burn brighter.
Americans were decorating their trees mainly with homemade ornaments, while the German-American sect continued to use apples, nuts, and marzipan cookies. Popcorn joined in after being dyed bright colors and interlaced with berries and nuts. Although I never remember “dying” popcorn — we simply strung it together and hung from the tree!
By the 1890s Christmas ornaments were arriving from Germany and Christmas tree popularity was on the rise around the U.S. It is said that Europeans preferred small trees about four feet in height, while Americans liked their Christmas trees to reach from floor to ceiling. Unfortunately that says a lot about us!
Tinsel is also placed on the tree branches to symbolize snow or ice hanging from trees — symbolism often misunderstood by those who lived in warmer areas that never experienced snow! You often hear about trees decorated with wrapped chocolate. That would have never worked in my house because the decorations would have been eaten each night.
An angel or star is usually placed on the very top of the tree – usually as the last decoration. The angel reminds Christians of the angel who brought glad tidings of great joy to the shepherds in the field.