During the Christmas season it is common to see large evergreen trees, usually pines, decorated and displayed throughout shopping malls and in people’s homes. These trees are decorated with lights, tinsel and ornaments and often topped with a star or angel. Christmas gifts are placed beneath them until they are opened by family and friends on Christmas day. Christmas trees are a well known Christmas tradition, but why do we decorate Christmas trees? Read on to find out the most popular theories.
Why Do We Decorate Christmas Trees?
The idea of having a Christmas tree comes from the traditions of a number of different cultures. The Romans and the Egyptians would cut down evergreen trees or branches and place them in their homes to remind them of life during harsh winter months. They were part of winter solstice decorations, but were not decorated. Many Christians from these cultures adopted these symbols into the celebration of Jesus’ birth. The evergreen tree came to represent everlasting life. They also added red berries or apples to symbolize the blood of Jesus.
The tradition of decorating Christmas trees can be traced back to Livonia and Germany in the 16th century. During Christmas and New Year celebrations in Livonia a spruce tree was decorated and taken to the town square where people danced and sang around it. It was then burned in a dazzling display. The custom spread and many associations would decorate trees with candies and fruits for the children of the workers to collect on Christmas day.
The Christmas tree gained further Christian symbolism sometime in the 16th century when a decorated tree called the paradise tree was part of medieval plays. These plays were originally started by the church to teach the content of the Bible to those that could not read. The 24th of December was commonly celebrated as Adam and Eve’s Day and plays would take place telling the story of the Garden of Eden complete with a tree decorated with apples. These plays were banned by the late 16th century, but people began to have their own private trees in their homes to celebrate. They were called paradises and were decorated with fruit and round pastries symbolizing the Christ.
Christmas Trees were lit by wax candles in the 18th century in North Germany. It is said that this tradition came about due to Martin Luther. Martin Luther was walking home on a winter’s night and saw the stars glistening through the tree branches. It reminded him of how Jesus left the stars of heaven to come down to earth. To show his children the beauty of Jesus’ sacrifice he lit candles and placed them on the tree branches in his home. Though there is little evidence to support this version of history, it makes for a beautiful story.
From Germany and Livonia the Christmas tree spread throughout the world mostly through the royal families and military troops. In Britain it was popularized by Queen Victoria. This carried through to the British colonies around the world. By the 20th Century Christmas trees were a popular cultural custom in most countries.