Always a holiday favorite, beautifully decorated trees abound everwhere her in Land of Lily Pad. There are great big trees in the public park and in department store indows...and small little ones that fit nicely on a lily pad. But big or small...it wouldn't be Christmas, for any of us, without the glorious Christmas tree.
Long before Christianity, plants and trees that remained green all year around had a special significance. We traditionally hang boughs of pine, spruce, or fir strees around our homes this time of year, along with our Christmas tree. In ancient times, boughs of evergreens were hung over doors and windows. It was believed that these green branches would keep away evil spirits. Ancient peoples celebrated the winter soltice because it meant that the last sun god would begin to get well. Evergrees signified that plants would grow again and the sun god would be, once again, strong (summertime). The ancient Egyptians and early Romans had similar beliefs and winter soltice celebrations. In northern Europe the mysterious Druids decorated their temples with evergreen boughs as a symbol of everlasting life.
Germany is credited with starting the Christmas tree tradition, as we now know it, back in the 16th century when devout Christians brought decorated trees into their homes. Some built pyramids out of wood and decorated them with evergreen boughs and candles, if wood was scarce. Martin Luther, the 16th century Protestant reformer. was the first to place candles on a tree...replicating the image of stars twinkling through the evergreen tree branches.
Most 19th century Amricans found Christmas trees an oddity. The first publicaly-displayed Christmas tree is on record in Pennsylvania. The German settlements in Pennsylvania had community Christmas trees as early as 1747. Even as recently as the 1840's, Christmas trees were seen as pagan symbols and not accepted by most Americans. It's not surprising really, that Christmas trees, like many other holiday traditions, were slow to be adopted in the States. To the New England Puritans, Christmas was sacred. The Pilgrims's second governor, William Bradford, tried to stamp out "pagan mockery" of the Christmas observance, and penalized any and all frivolity. Oliver Cromwell preached again the heathen tradition of singing Christmas carols, decorated trees, and joyful expressions of the season. In 1659, the general court of Massachusetts passed a law than strictly prohibited, and peanlized, any observance of December 25th that wasn't a church service. That strictly religious observance of Christmas day hung on until the 19th century when the influx of German immigrants undermined the old Puritan legacy.
In 1846 the popular royals, Queen Victoria and her German Prince Albert, were sketched in the illustrated London News, standing around their decorated Christmas tree. Because Queen Victoria was so popular that whatever was fashionable at court, immediately caught on with her subjects...not only in Great Britain, but also along the eastern coast of America. The Christmas tree had "officially" arrived. By the 1890's beautiful ornaments from Germant began arriving in the States and the rise in popularity of the Christmas tree really took off. Europeans tended to prefer small trees, around 4 feet or so, while Americans liked their trees to be tall...reaching from floor to ceiling.
The early 20th century saw most trees in America being decorated with handmade ornaments. German-Americans still used apples, nuts, and marzipan cookies. Popcorn was added, but was dyed bright colors and interlaced with berries and nuts. As their popularity rose, Christmas trees began appearing in town squares all across the US.
And the rest, as they say, is (recent) history...
I hope you've had as much fun as I have, learning the history all the festive holiday traditions that we associate with Christmas. I'm taking a few days off to spend time with my family and friends. I'll be back here on Tuesday, December 27th with another interesting blog.
Until then, my Christmas wish for for all of us is Peace on Earth. Merry Christmas, y'all!