Have you read about the history of the Christmas tree? As with most holiday traditions, the Christmas tree takes a winding path through various time periods and peoples to become the brilliant family ritual we practice today.
Posts may contain affiliate links, which allow me to earn a commission at no extra cost to you. This helps keep costs down so that I can continue providing high quality content to you for free. I appreciate your purchase through the links! (full disclosure)
Recently a friend gifted me a book called The Winter Solstice: The Sacred Traditions of Christmas. It is filled with anecdotes about our winter holiday traditions; tales and practices that eventually became the conglomeration of rituals that we practice today.
I’ve enjoyed the read and thought it was interesting enough to share.
Winter solstice is the time of the longest nights and the shortest days of the year. After the solstice, the sun will begin its gradual ascent to longer days, more sunshine, warmth, and hopefully, food. The sun is born! Which is good news for everyone who needs to eat.
The event has long been celebrated by ancient cultures in some way or another in most regions of the northern hemisphere. Over the last 5,000 years, holiday traditions have been assimilated from a mixture of ancient cultures into the Christian celebration of Jesus’ birth.
Symbols of the Holiday Season
Ever wonder how the Christmas tree, Santa Claus, mistletoe, holly and candles came to be symbols of the holiday? Do you enjoy learning about the historical context of traditions? If so, this book is for you. I thinks it’s particularly interesting that for all of my European ancestry, I know so much about Native American and Middle Eastern history, yet so little about the traditions and rituals of the ancient European cultures.
Stories about the Christmas tree
I liked the tales in this book about the Christmas tree. An evergreen, it symbolizes hope, fertility, and eternal life. The cycle of life continues, and thus it is a reminder that even though the coldest days are ahead, green life will return.
The practice of bringing trees and greenery into the house has roots in many cultures. The ancient Romans practiced bringing greenery into their homes during this time of year -the Kalends of January. Although at one time this practice was shunned by early Christians, it is an example of one practice that was assimilated into the Christian faith over time rather than being replaced.
Other stories tell of the Christmas tree reaching up to connect heaven and earth. Ancient cultures suggest the solstices as a time for the earthly and spiritual worlds to combine more deeply.
One of the tales connects Santa Claus to stories of the shaman, who would climb the evergreen tree to the heavens to gather gifts for his people below. It’s a story of hope that was probably told in the depths of winter as temperatures dipped and food became more scarce.
The first Christmas tree as we know it today, decorated with ornaments and lights, is first documented in the early 1600s in Germany. And again there is evidence that the prevailing Christian culture was not amused by the practice.
But the practice continued with very little fanfare until it took hold as a modern ritual in the late 1700s. Today, the beautiful tradition of family time, selecting a tree, spending time together decorating it, and having it be a holy symbol of everlasting life, has stuck in our hearts and minds as a good practice.
Interestingly, many old stories of the Christmas tree as an evergreen are substituted for stories of fruit trees, particularly apple trees. During this time of year, ceremonies were held around the fruit trees to prune them, bless them and wish for good harvests in the new year.
Peace to all of you as we move from darkness to the birth of light and hope!