any department store from now until New Year's and aisles packed
with plastic ornaments, glistening garland, and blinking lights
will greet you at every turn. What was once a simple family tradition
has become a multimillion-dollar industry with decorations becoming
more elaborate and costly
did this tradition begin and how did it become such an integral
part of the holiday festivities? Like the majority of practices
associated with Christmas, the tradition arose from the intermingling
of ancient Roman beliefs and the spreading Christian religion.
Christians believed certain trees flowered unseasonably on Christmas
Eve as homage to Jesus' birth. This belief combined with the Roman
practice of decorating their homes with greenery for the New Year
formed the basis of our modern fascination with icicles and fancy
angel tree toppers.
decorating of various structures and trees has been recorded in
Europe from the 17th century on, but the first written account of
a "Christmas tree" did not appear until 1605.
According to John Matthew's
The Winter Solstice, an anonymous German citizen that year recorded
trees being decorated with "roses cut out of many colored paper,
apples, wafers, gold-foil, [and] sweets".
What about chaser lights and
oodles of wrapped gifts?
It was more than 100 years
later when Professor Karl Gottfried Kissling of the University of
Wittenburg wrote of people adding candles for decorations and placing
children's wrapped branches around the bottom of the small indoor
trees. Even though the practice was initially condemned by religious
leaders, it spread from Germany to Finland through Norway and Denmark.
In 1840, Queen Victoria and
Prince Albert of England endorsed the tradition by displaying their
own ornately decorated tree at their palace.
By the early 1900s, decorating
the tree was as much a part of Christmas as Santa Claus and opening
presents. Of course, the early trees were decorated differently
than today's evergreens. Early ornaments were usually hand-crafted
or edible. Nuts, candies, fruits, and pieces of colored paper were
the most common.
The average modern tree is
decorated with a combination of store-bought ornaments and family
memorabilia with several strings of lights strewn over the branches
instead of candles, but no matter how the tree is decorated it still
symbolizes a timeless Christmas tradition of families gathered together
exchanging presents and love.
Used by permission of My Merry Christmas and
Jeff Westover, Editor
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