When we talk about the history of Christmas trees, there are really several problems to solve. First, there is the association of the evergreen tree with Christianity. When and where did it start? Then, how was the evergreen tree associated with the Christian Christmas holiday? And finally, how does this association manifest in our modern tradition of a tree decorated at the holiday season? We will examine each of these questions one by one.
Evergreen Trees and Christianity:
There is a debate about the timing and how the evergreen tree has been associated for the first time with Christianity. Some historians tell us that a monk named Boniface came across a group of pagans worshiping an oak tree in the woods (and perhaps also making animal and human sacrifices). Boniface was angry at this and he cut the oak. As legend has it, an evergreen tree has sprung up where the oak had been. Boniface and the Gentiles believed that it was a sign of Christianity, and then, the association of the evergreen tree with Christianity began. There is also a debate about exactly where it happened. Some historians say that this happened in Riga, Latvia. However, some others have claimed that this happened in Germany, which could be more logical given that Boniface was a German monk.
Evergreen Trees and Christmas:
Other historians claim that the Boniface monk actually used the evergreen tree as a teaching tool to preach Christian beliefs to pagan populations . It took the triangular form of the tree as a symbol of the Christian trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. According to this legend, around the twelfth century, Christians brought evergreen trees at Christmas time and suspended them as a symbol of the Christian faith.
Others claim that the first recorded reference to evergreen trees used during the Christmas holidays was documented by German craft guilds of the 16th century. One of these references is that of a fir tree decorated and displayed in the guild's main store, and that guild children were allowed to take small gifts that decorated the tree for the holiday. Still other references suggest that throughout the duration of the guild, apprentices were commissioned to celebrate the decorated evergreen trees.
Martin Luther is another person associated with the early association between the evergreen tree and Christmas. The story tells that Luther was walking one evening in the winter, admiring the beauty of the twinkling stars in the clear night sky. He was inspired to cut an evergreen tree, bring it indoors and try to recreate the effect of starlight by decorating the tree with candles.
Transition to the modern Christmas tree:
Traditionally, the Germans decorated their Christmas trees with fruits, nuts, small gifts and other trinkets. The glass ornaments have also made their appearance in the famous glassblowing shops of Germany. For this reason, our modern tradition of decorated Christmas trees generally dates back to a German heritage.
There was a period when conservative Christians avoided Christmas trees as idolatry. At Puritan America, Christmas trees were not welcome during the Christmas holidays. In England, decorated trees and Christmas carols were completely covered. Fortunately, these days did not last too long. In the mid-1800s, Queen Victoria of England and her royal family were photographed in front of their decorated family Christmas tree and the photo was published in the London News. Since then, decorated Christmas trees have become very popular in England and the United States.
The tradition of decorating evergreen trees at Christmas certainly evolved from early historical narratives, but one thing remains the same. A beautifully decorated Christmas tree is always an inspiring show appreciated by everything that puts us in the holiday spirit every year.