A Brief History of Christmas Trees

There are many people who don’t celebrate Christmas because of it’s pagan roots.

There are many people who celebrate Christmas but eschew the Christmas tree because of it’s pagan roots.

There are many, many, many legends about the Christmas tree. So many that one begins to wonder if it’s even possible to track down the origin. Every year my family meets some new person with some new argument against Christmas trees, and it sparks a whole new research project. As a result I’ve acquired significant understanding of the origin of Christmas trees. The tale is both simpler and more confusing than any version you’ve heard before.

One fact that many legends agree on is the origin of the original Christmas tree. All the legends point to Germany as the source of the practice. Whether it’s attributed to Martin Luther or St. Boniface, it all points to Germany. Hold onto that thought, as it will become important later.

Those who eschew Christmas as a pagan celebration believe it to be a descendent tradition of the Roman Saturnalia. The Saturnalia was a festival that took place around the Winter Solstice to celebrate the carefree by-gone days of Saturn. Long ago in Roman Mythology a war took place and Saturn was overthrown by his son Jupiter and driven far away. This is an important element in Cosmic mythology that leads cosmologist to speculate that the planet Saturn used to be Earth’s sun and was “driven away” into the cold outer reaches of the solar system. But I digress.

The Saturnalia was a time of reveling and idolatry and general pagan merry making. Because of the similarities in dates people say that Christmas is the same festivity. Oh but! The Winter Solstice is not a pagan rite. The winter solstice is the shortest day of the year – the beginning of winter – the day that people in the far Northern reaches hold their breath and wonder if the sun is going to come back or not. It’s a time for celebration – halfway through the woods. Many cultures other than Rome celebrated the Solstice. It’s a perfectly naturally normal time to have a party. Winter would be too depressing otherwise.

Most of these cultures were pagan. So were most of the celebrations. The reason for this is that Christianity didn’t exist yet. Once it did the pagan traditions quickly became Christian traditions, but the celebration remained. It’s the coldest, darkest day of the year. Of course the celebrations remained!

Which brings me back to the Christmas trees. In the days before modern commercialism, before they even had dye to color fabric, before electricity or any kind of interior decorating, unless you were an extremely rich nobleman with a castle and tapestries to hang on the walls your home was a miserable, cold, dark hovel. Especially in Germany. Germany is one of the coldest and nastiest countries of them all. England at least has the Gulf Stream! So in the midst of this dark misery is it any wonder that people would collect evergreens and bring them in to brighten up their homes?

The legend of Martin Luther says he saw the evergreens sparkling in the starlight and attempted to recreate it for his children using tinsel and candles indoors.

The legend of St. Boniface says he urged people to bring in evergreens to remind them of life in an attempt to abolish the pagan practice of child sacrifice.

Green is the color of life. It’s a reminder that spring will come again. It’s hope for the sun. It’s a way to brighten a dark interior. It’s a beautiful gift from God and it is not pagan or evil. If one studies the psychology of the culture that the practice originated rather than obscure and apocryphal history Christmas trees suddenly make a lot more sense.

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