Besides Santa Claus, it is difficult to think of a symbol that screams Christmas more than a decorated, well-lit Christmas tree.
Over the years, we have had real ones and fake ones, and while it pains me to pay for something we will discard in a month, my preference is the real McCoy.
When our children were young, I used to let Paul take the kids and go pick out the tree. But now that they are young adults, we go without them. Our tree this year is beautiful. One of my favorite parts of the season is putting all of the ornaments on the tree — they all bring back such sweet memories.
I knew a little bit about the origins of the Christmas tree, but I decided I needed to know more to share with all of you. Did you know decorating your home with greenery from outdoors at this time of year dates all the way back to ancient times?
In many countries the people believed greenery protected them from witches, evil spirits, and ghosts and even kept illnesses at bay.
In the Northern hemisphere, the shortest day and the longest night of the year is Dec. 21 or 22, and is called the Winter Solstice.
In ancient times, many people believed the sun was a god and in the winter, when it wasn’t shining, signified the sun god was sick. They celebrated the solstice because that meant spring would eventually come, the sun god would heal and all would be well. Part of the celebration included decorating the homes and temples with evergreen boughs. Different cultures honored their different gods in this way.
So just what country gets credit for the Christmas tree we all know and love? Germany.
Sixteenth century German Christians cut down trees, built wooden stands for them, and decorated them with various homemade “ornaments.” Most historians credit Martin Luther, the famous founder of the Protestant Reformation, for starting the tradition of lighting the tree using candles. That sounds dangerous, doesn’t it?
The tradition of the Christmas tree was slow in catching on in America. William Bradford, the second governor of the Pilgrims, spoke against all things Christmas such as carols, decorations and basically good cheer. I am glad I wasn’t around in that era.
There were even laws against celebrating what we now consider a holiday. In 1659, the General Court of Massachusetts made a law forbidding citizens to do anything festive on Christmas except attend a church service.
In the 19th century, most Americans didn’t “get” the point of the Christmas tree. Thank goodness for Queen Victoria and her German Prince Albert over in England.
In 1846 the Queen, her husband and their children were sketched in a London newspaper standing around their beautifully decorated Christmas tree. All of you royal watchers are probably not surprised, but that was all it took for the Christmas tree to catch on.
Of course German immigrants in America were already decorating their Christmas trees, but now the tradition caught on with everybody.
Christmas ornaments began arriving from Germany and the tradition of decorating with homemade ornaments as well as nuts, berries and strings of popcorn became popular.
It should be noted that Europeans preferred smaller trees, but Americans liked the trees that were as tall as the ceiling.
Thanks to Thomas Edison’s assistants, as soon as electricity was discovered, strings of lights replaced those burning candles.
Lit Christmas trees began appearing in town squares and all over towns. The famous Rockefeller Center Christmas tree in New York City actually dates all the way back to 1931. It was small that first year, but grew each year and is still one of the highlights of visiting New York this time of year.
Franklin Pierce, our 14th president, brought the Christmas tree to the White House, and in 1923, Calvin Coolidge started the White House tree lighting ceremony.
Thanks to the Germans for bringing us The Christmas tree! Even the lyrics of the song, “O Christmas Tree,” also known as “O Tannenbaum,” were written by German composer Ernst Anschutz in the 19th century. Next time you listen to that song, think about the long history of our beloved Christmas tree.
South Forsyth resident Adlen Robinson is author of “Home Matters: The Guide to Organizing Your Life and Home.” E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.