Where the Christmas Tree Comes From

O Tannenbaum O Tannenbaum … How  Lovely Are Your Branches… I grew up singing this classic Christmas carol. It still nostalgically takes me back to a Christmas Pageant in grade school. The emotional gravitational pull of nostalgia is simply amazing. Sing a song. Smell some evergreen. Look at sparkling lights. Emotional attachments aside. Let’s really look at the facts as to where our modern Christmas Tree comes from.

The Christmas Tree that graces homes and town squares in America and worldwide has a long history. Its present “glory” came bit-by-bit evolving slowly over many generations.

In pre-Christian times, Romans used evergreen symbols of fertility and regeneration to trim their house at the Kalends of January. Before that, primitive tree worship was prevalent among all nations in ancient times. The setting apart of evergreen trees can be traced back to the just prior to the nations being disbursed from the Tower of Babel (i.e. Babylon).

Eventually Christians appropriated the use of evergreens for their Christmas celebration. To magically remove any taint of paganism, Christians said the Christmas tree represents (1) The Tree of Life or everlasting life (2) Jesus as The Light of the World.

Christians have invented a number of stories to explain the origin of the Christmas Tree:

[1]   St. Boniface (680-754 AD) – This is a Catholic version of the origins of the Christmas Tree. St. Boniface was born Winfred in Anglo-Saxon Devon. He became a Benedictine monk, changed his name to Boniface, and dedicated his life to the conversion of Germany to   Christianity.

His destruction of the pagan Oak of Thor in the 720s at Geismar was woven into legend as the origin of the evergreen Christmas Tree. According to the story, after defying the heathen gods by chopping down a giant sacred oak used for Druidic worship, Boniface pointed to a young fir as the new symbol to which the German people look as a sign of life and growth, even in the midst of winter darkness.

[2]   Martin Luther (14583 – 1546 AD) – This is a Protestant version of the origins of the Christmas Tree. Legend has it that Martin Luther began the tradition of decorating trees to celebrate Christmas. One crisp Christmas Eve, Luther was walking through snow-covered woods and supposedly struck by the beauty of a group of small evergreens. Their branches, dusted with snow, shimmered in the moonlight. When he got home, Luther set up a little fir tree indoors so he could share this story with his children. Luther was said to decorate the fir with candles, which he lit in honor of Christ’s birth.

It’s just too bad that no one did the math when this legend was made up, because there isn’t any definite reference to any tree of this kind until 50 years after Luther’s death, and those had no lights.

[3]   Paradise Tree – This is another Catholic version of the origins of the Christmas Tree. The history of the medieval Paradise Tree includes a mystery play called the Paradise Play. The Paradise Play retold the story of Creation and the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. The stage prop that represented lost paradise was a tree (often a fir) that was hung with apples and round wafers in imitation of the consecrated Host (bread of communion in high churches). Even after these mystery plays fell out of favor, people kept their memory alive by erecting the stage prop – a Paradise Tree – in their homes on December 24th, which was the day that the Paradise Play was ordinarily presented and was the Feast Day of Adam and Eve in the Catholic Church.

Those who favor this account for the origin of the Christmas Tree blend it with the medieval German (i.e. Teutonic) custom of setting up a pyramid of shelves at Christmas on which candles and greenery were placed. They claim that in the Rhineland region of Germany in the 16th century, the pyramid and Paradise merged into a lighted fir tree hung with ornaments. They say that this was the prototype for today’s Christmas Tree.

During the time that the Christmas holiday was being forged anew in America, Godey’s magazine tried to fashion a conventional image for the ancient fertility s symbol that became a domestic talisman (i.e.  homing device). Literally. What season does most Americans long for home? This evergreen icon of family was clearly meant to commemorate Adam and Eve’s Day – the first family. Godey’s told Americans: “an orthodox Christmas Tree will have the figures of our                first parents at its foot, and the serpent twining himself round its stem.” The early 16th century legend said the Paradise Tree represented the Tree of Life. Fortunately, its fruit identifies itself as the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, which actually was the tree that the serpent wrapped                              himself around.

[4]   Prince Albert (1819 – 1861 AD) and Queen Victoria – Another Protestant version of the origins of the Christmas Tree. Francis Albert Augustus Charles Emmanuel, prince of the Protestant German state of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, was the chosen husband of the young Victoria, a newly crowned queen of England. It was not until Prince Albert married Queen Victoria that the Christmas Tree became part of the British domestic landscape. We are told that Albert had always had a Christmas Tree as a child, and in the 1840s he erected them for his young family at Windsor Castle.

When the Illustrated London News printed an engraving of the royal family around a tabletop Christmas Tree in 1848, the custom was adopted quickly by upper- and middle-class English homes and by the Victorians across the Atlantic in America. Albert helped spread the tradition by sending cut evergreen trees to military barracks, schools, and hospitals.

[5]   Pagan Yule SymbolBabylon marks the beginning of tree or creation worship. An old Babylonian tale told of an evergreen tree, which sprang out of the dead tree stump. The old stump symbolized the deceased first worldly king Nimrod, the new evergreen tree springing up symbolized that Nimrod had come back to life in his son – Tammuz.

Unbeknownst to many, the evergreen element of the winter holiday season returns us full circle to Christmas’ original root. Today, the evergreen tree is the most common Christmas symbol in America (just look in your own home town). In antiquity, a fir or palm or evergreen tree was used in conjunction with celebrating various sun gods’ birthdays on the ancient winter solstice of December 25th (BTW – originally Tammuz).

The very name by which Christmas is also known – Yule or Yule Day or Yuletide Season – is literally linked to its Babylonian origin. In the ancient Chaldean language of Babylon, the word “yule” is the term for an infant or little child. Far and wide in the realms of ancient paganism, the birth of the son of the Babylonian Queen of Heaven was celebrated at the time of midwinter. Take for example how the 25th of December was called “Yule Day” by pagan Anglo-Saxons long before they came in contact with Christianity. Remnants of this ancient root are still evident in the Nordic people of Norway and Sweden. They declare “God Jul” (Pronounced good yewl), when they say the equivalent to Merry Christmas.

Yule also celebrates the shortest day of the year – Midwinter or the Winter Solstice. The Christmas Tree most likely began life as the solstice evergreen. In the world where everything is welcomed, the solstice evergreen is called the world tree. The northern shamans often wore bells on their ritual red robes trimmed in white, and were said to climb the world tree to get through the smoke hole of a skin tent into the bright heavens where spirits wait to take him on a journey to the subtle realm to receive messages from another world. According to John Matthews who wrote The Winter Solstice: The Sacred Traditions of Christmas, the very notion of a gift-giver descending from a high place bearing gifts can be traced back to the shaman’s climbing up the world tree to reach the other-world, then returning with gifts for everyone. Sun images were hung off this world tree was symbolized by the center pole of a tent. This center pole represented for the shaman the axis of the world that was said to lead to the heavens. This cosmic world tree was believed to literally connect heaven to earth. My question to you is this a second heaven connection or third? I wonder if William Muir Auld was aware of this mojo when he penned: “It stands a thing of wonder to the children, a veritable gate of heaven.”

Anthropologists see in the Christmas Tree a survival in some sense of primitive tree worship that was so prevalent among all nations in ancient times. It’s interesting that the image of the modern Christmas Tree can now be found throughout the earth as well. The Christmas Tree repeats the principle points and summarizes the idea of tree worship with gilded nuts and balls on a tree symbolizing the sun.

We can go on and on about this subject, but let’s just stop here for now. Stay tuned. SANTATIZING next blog will unveil how the American Christmas Tree became so popular.

Copyright Nov. 29, 2012 – Author: Robin Main.

Twitter: @SANTATIZING, Facebook: http://facebook.com/santatizing, Website: www.santa-tizing.com, Email: santatizing@gmail.com

Most references to the things I write on this blog can be found in my book SANTA-TIZING: What’s wrong with Christmas and how to clean it up (available on amazon http://www.amazon.com/SANTA-TIZING-Whats-wrong-Christmas-clean/dp/1607911159/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1353692179&sr=1-1&keywords=SANTA_TIZING).

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About Robin Main

Robin's premier quest is to love people and love God with all her heart, soul & strength, because without love we all are nothing. After making a vow to Jesus's face during a personal epiphaneous appearance, she wrote a book -- SANTA-TIZING: What's wrong with Christmas and how to clean it up" to share the mysteries she discovered while searching for where Christmas comes from. There are revelations in SANTATIZING that you will not find anywhere else. So throw away the template for Christmas books and come walk on the kingdom side in an examination of America's most loved holiday. Critical thinking is a must while looking through this lens of history and Scripture. You'll be intrigued and enlightened. What's wrong with Christmas? Plenty. This book shines light on various troubling issues in celebrating a Christian Christmas. How to clean it up? This will be determined by you and your family. Since we have an abundance of traditions, memories, and reasons to stay just the way we are (and possibly miss out on becoming part of His Pure & Spotless Bride), SANTA-TIZING primarily explores the valley of the shadows. Please know that in God's Kingdom no person is forced to do anything against their will. Give em heaven!!!
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One Response to Where the Christmas Tree Comes From

  1. Pingback: How did the American Christmas Tree Become So Popular? | Santatizing's Blog

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