Whence Came the Christmas Tree? - History of the Christmas Tree

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Last Updated By Bill's Bible Basics :
February 16, 2017

Source: K-House eNews

December, 2004

Christmas season is in its full bustle now, and millions of families around the world are busily moving furniture and pulling out boxes of decorations to beautify their living rooms with Christmas trees. However, there seems to be very little connection between decorated evergreens and the birth of Jesus Christ. Many Christians wonder whether they should continue the tradition of the Christmas tree, while others have no qualms and enjoy all the trappings of the Christmas season. We have provided below a series of histories and legends for the benefit of all who wonder about the historical significance of the Christmas tree and how it ties into Christian tradition.

Ancient Rome

During the ancient festival of Saturnalia, Romans decked trees with small trinkets and also decorated their homes and temples with ivy and holly and wreaths. Gifts of coins, fruit, dolls and candles were exchanged during this time, but the gift giving could get more extreme. A Greek writer Libanius wrote that, "The impulse to spend seizes everyone."

St. Boniface

The Bible often railed against the ancient pagan practice of worshiping idols under trees (Hosea 4:13, Ezek 6:13) in the mountains. Around AD 1000, a man named Boniface served as a missionary to the Germanic peoples in Europe, teaching them about Christianity. According to legend, Boniface came upon a group of pagans still worshipping an oak tree, sacred to the god Thor. In his fury at their foolishness, the missionary chopped the tree down. When a young fir tree grew up in place of the oak, Boniface saw it as a sign of the Christian faith, with its triangular shape representing the Trinity - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The converted German people began to revere the evergreen as God's tree. By the 12th century in central Europe, the fir tree was being hung upside down, undecorated, during the feast of the Nativity to represent the triune God of Christianity.

The Paradise Tree

In medieval times, when few people could read, plays were often used to describe Biblical events. The Creation week and the fall of Adam and Eve were taught as a Paradise Play, performed on December 24th each year. However, since it was impractical to use real fruit trees to represent the trees in the Garden of Eden in winter, evergreens were decorated with fruit as a substitute. Paper flowers were also used to decorate the Tree of Knowledge, originally only red (representing knowledge) and white (representing innocence), but later of many colors.

Martin Luther

The first Christmas tree lights are credited to Martin Luther. One winter night while walking home through the forest, Luther grew fearful of the dark and of meeting a wild animal. When he looked through the trees, however, and saw the twinkling stars offering him light and direction, he was greatly comforted. When he got home, he tried to describe to his family the beauty of the stars through the trees, but found words could not do justice to the scene. He then brought in a fir tree, which he decorated with candles to portray the lovely stars, the light that God had provided.

The Visitor to Strasbourg

The first written record of a Christmas tree was found in the diary of a visitor to Strasbourg around 1605, at that time a city in Germany. He described how the people would set up fir trees in their parlors and decorate them with apples, gold foil, "wafers and golden sugar-twists and paper flowers of all colors."

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert

When Queen Victoria was 13, she wrote about the Christmas trees decorated with lights and sugar ornaments, a tradition which the German aristocracy had brought to the English royalty. Victoria later married the German Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburn, who loved the German tradition of the Christmas tree. Victoria was very popular with the British people and had a great influence on styles and public opinion. When an illustration of Albert and Victoria with their children around a Christmas tree was published in The Illustrated London News in 1848, many British families were soon decorating trees in their homes at Christmas.

The traditions of the Christmas tree soon spread to other parts of Europe and to America and many other areas of the world. Many have combined the manger scene with the tree, while in some areas of the world, the manger scene is preferred by itself. Whichever traditions your family chooses to observe, do so in honor of God Almighty, who gave His Son to the earth as a little baby, to one day die on another tree for the sins of all mankind.

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