O’ CHRISTMAS TREE
By JUDY COLLIER, Features Writer
In ancient times, the use of evergreen trees, wreaths, and garlands, symbolized eternal life, and were the customs of the Egyptians, the Chinese, and the Hebrews. Tree worship was also common among pagan Europeans and survived the conversion to Christianity. It was common for the Scandinavians to decorate their houses and barns with evergreens to scare away the devil. The custom survived further by placing a Yule log or tree, near the entrance to the house or even inside the house during the mid winter holidays.
The modern Christmas tree, as we all know it, originated in Germany. It began as a “Paradise Tree” in the medieval play Adam and Eve. It was a fir tree hung with apples to resemble the forbidden tree in the Garden of Eden. Later on it was also hung with wafers, that were later replaced with decorated cookies of different shapes and sizes. Candles began to adorn the trees too.
A Christmas Pyramid, a triangle wood box was made with shelves to hold a few Christmas figurines, and was placed in the same room as the decorated tree. The Pyramid was
also adorned with candles and a star. By the 16th century, the Paradise Tree, and Christmas
Pyramid were merged into one decoration, our beloved Christmas Tree. The idea was widespread by the German Lutherans by the 18th century, but it did not become deep rooted into German tradition until the very early 19th century.
Introduced then into England in the early 19th century, but did not become really popular until mid century, when German born Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria display one in Windsor Castle. Victorian trees were decorated with small toys, gifts, ribbons, bows, small cakes and candy; the popular popcorn string also hung from their trees. Christmas trees decorated to the max, became the height of fashion from the mid 19th century on.
Not only popular in Germany, England, and North America, they were also popular in Austria, Switzerland, Poland, the Netherlands, and China and Japan. Introduced inAsia by Western missionaries.
In the US alone, Woolworth was selling$25 million annually on ornament sales by 1890. By then electric lights were also available and in much demand among the wealthier
folk. In the 1930’s the first artificial tree was on the market, made from
brush bristles. Think of old Fuller Brush! They were developed in the US. By 1950’s and
1960’s trees were being made from aluminum and pvc plastic in mass quantities.
Who remembers pink, silver, blue and even purple aluminum tree
Today Christmas trees are grown in all our states, including Alaska
and Hawaii. Americans like their trees to reach from floor to ceiling.
The taller the better! Europeans prefer their trees to be about 4 foot
in height. The first tree in Rockefeller Center was in 1931.
It was small, placed there by a construction worker on the site. Small and unadorned. Today the Rockefeller tree is huge and laden with over 25,000 lights. There are many country traditions all around the world, surrounding the Christmas tree, and if you don’t know the background or the origin of the tree in your ancestral country, look it up on Google. There are many interesting variations around the world.
I was born in Canada, where many German settlers migrated from the US into Canada, taking their traditions with them in the 1700’s. They took the Christmas Tree, Advent Calendar, Gingerbread houses and decorated cookies into Canada to name just a few. When Prince Albert put up the first Christmas tree at the castle in 1848, he started a tradition that became an annual event in England, the US, and Canada.