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.
|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
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.
|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
|Tree at Windsor Castle in 1848
|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.
|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.
|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?