With predictions that fresh and faux Christmas tree sales are going to rocket this year, let’s take some time out to look at the origins of this central feature of the festivities.
Although we consider the tree as a part of a Christian Christmas, its origins are ancient and pre-date the religion.
Pagans used trees as part of their religious ceremonies. The Druids decorated Oak trees with fruit and candles in honour of their Gods of the Harvest. During the Roman festival of Saturnalia, trees were decorated with gifts and candles.
The Vikings regarded evergreen coniferous trees as symbols that the darkness of winter would end and that spring would return.
So how did the tree become part of Christmas? One legend claims St. Boniface encountered some German pagans about to sacrifice a child at the base of an old Oak tree.
He cut down the Oak to prevent the sacrifice and a Fir tree grew in its place. St Boniface told the pagans that this was the Tree of Life and represented Christ.
Another legend says the Christmas tree was something created by Martin Luther, the founder of Protestantism.
The legend tells how Luther saw the stars shining through the branches of a forest as he walked at night giving him an impression of twinkling lights. The beauty of this so impressed him that he cut down a small evergreen and brought it into his home to recreate the scene using lighted candles on the tree’s branches.
Germany started the trend of tree decorations as part of Christmas. When trees were scarce a wooden pyramid was sometimes used instead and this would be decorated with branches and candles.
In Britain the, Christmas tree was popularised in 1841 by Prince Albert and Queen Victoria, both of German descent, who decorated a tree at Windsor Castle with candles, fruits, gingerbread and sweets. This trend also spread to America via German emigrants.
Nowadays the Christmas tree, real or synthetic, is seen worldwide in homes, churches, workplaces and cities.
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