liltreetopbar.jpg

Home
Winter Solstice
The Yule Log
The Christmas Tree
Santa Claus
The Christmas Tree

As we enter the Christian Era, we can see how the Angles, the Celts, the Saxons, and other European cultures fostered their winter solstice traditions as they embraced Christianity -- particulary when it came to decorating the home with evergreens.  But when did we first begin bringing entire trees indoors and decorating them?
 
In the 7th century a monk from what is now Devonshire, England traveled to Germany to teach the Word of God.  The way the story goes, he used the triangular shape of the Fir Tree to illustrate the idea of the Holy Trinity -- God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. The converted people began to regard the Fir tree as God's Tree.  By the 12th century it was being hung, upside-down from ceilings at Christmastime in Central Europe as a symbol of Christianity.

martinluthertree.jpg
A depiction of the Martin Luther tree

But it wasn't until the early 1500s that people began to actually decorate their trees with lights.  It is believed that Martin Luther, the 16th-century Protestant reformer, first added lighted candles to a tree. Walking home one winter evening, he was amazed by the brilliance of the stars twinkling amidst the evergreens. In an attempt to reproduce the scene for his family so they could enjoy it within the warmth of their home, he erected a tree in the main room and wired its branches with lighted candles.
 

Christmas tree in a German household
treeinagermanhouseholdbydorrington.jpg
By Dorrington

 

In the mid 1500s, Christmas markets were set up in German towns to sell items such as gifts and food.  Merchants made gingerbread men and wax ornaments for people to buy to take home to hang on their Christmas Trees.  A visitor to Strasbourg in 1601 wrote about a tree decorated with wafers and golden sugar-twists and paper flowers of all colours. 

Germany also first saw the invention of tinsel in the early 1600s.   At that time real silver was used, and machines were created which pulled the silver out into the sliver-thin strips.  Silver was used for tinsel right up to the mid-1900s century. 

Finishing Touches
finishingtoucheslilarosekennedy.jpg
By Lila Rose Kennedy


The Christmas Tree was first introduced to England by the Georgian Kings who came from Germany. At this time also, German Merchants living in England decorated their homes with a Christmas Tree. The British public was not fond of the German Monarchy hence they resisted anything deemed "fashionable" by German culture.   A few families did have Christmas trees however, probably more from the influence of their German neighbours than from the Royal Court.

It was customary for each family to have several small trees  -- one for each member of the family -- on a large table.  Ornamentation primarily consisted of silver tinsel, wire ornaments, candles and small beads.  These were manufactured primarily in Germany and East Europe throughout the 17th century.

Tree at Windsor Castle in 1848
treeatwindsorcastleeighteenfortyeightjlwilliams.jpg
By JL Williams

.


As decades passed, the British grew fonder of the "Christmas Tree" especially one they discovered that the custom had been embraced by the very popular Royals.   In 1846, Queen Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert, were featured in the Illustrated London News. They were shown with their children around a Christmas Tree.
Victoria was very popular with her subjects, and what was done at Court immediately became fashionable - not only in Britain, but with certain fashion-conscious members of East Coast American Society.


Christmas in America

Aside from the fashion-conscious, most 19th-century Americans found Christmas trees a questionable cultural practice, at best. The first record of one being on display was in the 1830s by the German settlers of Pennsylvania, although, the Pennsylvania German settlements had community trees as early as 1747. But, as late as the 1840s Christmas trees were seen as part of Pagan celebration and not accepted by most Americans.

christmasgreetingfromsanta.jpg
Christmas Greeting Card with Santa

Early in American History, the Puritans considered Christmas to be strictly a religious observance and anything depicting a celebration was considered improper at best. The Pilgrims' second governor, William Bradford, wrote that he attempted to stamp out "pagan mockery" of the observance, penalizing any celebration. 

Oliver Cromwell spoke out against "the heathen traditions" of Christmas carols, decorated trees, and any joyful expression which diminished "that sacred event."   In 1659, the General Court of Massachusetts enacted a law making any observance of December 25 (other than a church service) a penal offense; people were fined for hanging decorations.

christmasangelwithtree.jpg
Angel with Christmas Tree


It is this writer's opinion that this attitude was not so much about religion as it was about controlling the masses. 

That stern solemnity continued until the 19th century, when the influx of German and Irish immigrants undermined the Puritan legacy.  It was then that attitudes toward celebration involving the decoration of a tree in the home began to soften. 

Here we see a representation of the tree, which was once viewed as being a part of strictly  -- and often misunderstood -- Pagan tradition, finally being embraced as a part of Christian celebration.

Who's that man in the red suit?

swag.gif

.
Please visit 
The_TerraDara_HomePage
2006 - 2014 JHB
.
.